When 3D Touch was first showcased, it left some people scratching their heads. The technology served the same function as a long-press, but some users describe using it as counter-intuitive. In general, we’re careful with our smartphones and handle them pretty, so pressing harder on the screen isn’t a natural impulse for many. However, Microsoft has elected to go a completely different direction. What if instead of touching a screen harder, we touched it less instead? Introducing Pre-Touch.
For the past two years or so, Microsoft has been teasing the development of a new way to navigate mobile phones and tablets; 3D Touch. 3D Touch involves a lot less touching than usual. The idea is that you should be able to control apps, browse through content and adjust settings by gliding your fingers over the screen, without actually touching it.
A new Microsoft research video shows how cool pre-touch sensing for mobile can be and it does come with some great use cases. For example: hovering your fingers over the phone while watching a video will bring up playback controls. Doing so while gripping the phone with only one hand will cause the app to display only essential controls on the side that you’re holding the device.
It also allows for fine-grained control, such as selecting text without touching the screen, or tapping an item to highlight it and then hovering over easy-to-reach buttons with another finger to do things like copy or delete it. This technology could also allow for more immersive experiences: browsers can be set to reveal hyperlinked text only when your finger hovers over the screen.
Microsoft had been planning to use many sensors on the sides of a device to detect how a phone is held by grip, allowing 3D Touch-enabled phones to block an orientation switch when you're lying down in bed. In the Microsoft Research video you can also see features allowing gestures to be unearthed as a users' finger gets closer to the screen. Video controls are used as an example, but Microsoft was also using the same concept to allow Windows Phone users to hover over Live Tiles (MixView) and reveal information relevant to a particular app.
It's not clear whether Microsoft will ever bring its 3D Touch work to the market. The software giant is retrenching from its Lumia Windows phones, and rumors suggest the company is focusing on a "Surface Phone" launch for next year. While Windows Phone might not have a competitive advantage on the app side, this type of 3D Touch interaction is innovative and unique. We just might never get the chance to test it in reality to see if it works as well as Microsoft's concepts.