Microsoft is trying to cram Kinect-like features into its future flagship Windows Phone handsets. At least one device, codenamed McLaren, will debut on a range of US carriers later this year with features that let you hover your finger over the screen to interact with games and applications without ever touching the display. Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans tell The Verge that the technology, known internally as 3D Touch or Real Motion, has been developed by Nokia over a number of years. Evleaks first unveiled the existence of Nokia McLaren, and we understand the device will largely be seen as a Lumia 1020 successor with a similar hump in the rear casing for a powerful camera.
The unique aspect of McLaren will be the number of sensors on the device to make way for the 3D Touch system. While Microsoft is reaching out to top developers to support the new system with apps and games, 3D Touch will be unique to its own devices and will not be available initially on handsets from Samsung, HTC, among others. Features like answering calls by holding the phone to your ear will be supported, along with the ability to set the phone down on a table to enable speakerphone, or to hang up a call by placing it in your pocket. Phones that support 3D Touch will use a number of hardware sensors to allow devices to mute when they are covered by a hand or held to a chest, or to dismiss alerts by waving a hand in front of the screen.
Eliminating buttons is a key aspect
Microsoft is also planning to detect how a phone is held by grip, allowing a 3D Touch-enabled phone to block an orientation switch when you’re lying down in bed. The sides of the phone will also be used to interact with the operating system, and a camera feature will let you zoom simply by dragging your fingers along the side of the device. Central to Microsoft’s thinking are ways to simplify devices and remove buttons like the power button so phone owners can simply grip their device to power it on.
While Microsoft had originally planned to debut its 3D Touch features with Windows Phone 8.1 and a Nokia "Goldfinger" handset, we understand that the work has been pushed to an additional update planned for later this year. Goldfinger still exists, but it’s simply being used as an engineering device to prepare developers for the upcoming changes and the McLaren launch.
MixView brings a new Tile layout to Windows Phone
Another key part to the 3D Touch experience is several UX changes to Windows Phone. A new MixView, originally detailed by WP Central, allows 3D Touch users to hover over a Live Tile and tap down in the air, without touching the display, to reveal a number of smaller Tiles that are relevant to that particular app. On a Facebook Tile you may see a messaging Tile and phone Tile appear that will allow Windows Phone users to quickly call pinned contacts. The Tiles displayed on screen look like they have simply exploded from the original tile, and the concept comes from the Zune MixView feature that placed a music artist at the center of the screen surrounded by related content.
As Amazon is reportedly preparing similar 3D features for its upcoming smartphone, the real question for Microsoft will be whether its own system is unique enough to act as a differentiator in the high-end smartphone market. Samsung has its own Air Gestures to change music tracks, accept phone calls, and scroll through webpages, but they’re often gimmicky and underused. If Microsoft’s 3D Touch system is easy to use then it could be as natural as the screen double tapping to power on a handset that currently exists on most Nokia Windows Phones today. If it’s not, then it’s a big gamble on bringing Kinect-like interactions to the device that lives in your pocket.