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You know what’s the biggest limitation to touchscreens on smartphones these days? You actually have to touch them. Microsoft is apparently looking beyond the normal paradigms of touchscreens with what they’re calling pre-touch technology. And this goes even further than simply hovering your finger over the display too.

That’s part of it. We’ve already seen some variation of that on Wacom tablets and with the S Pen on the Galaxy Note series. When you hover, contextual buttons and fuctions might appear for you. With pre-touch, you can do that with your fingers.

One example that they demonstrate in the test video (embedded below) is how media player controls can appear when you bring your finger close to the screen. Move your finger away from the screen and the controls fade away. But wait. There’s more. The pre-touch technology being tested by Microsoft also measures the grip you have on the phone around its edges.

Hovering Your Finger Over Microsoft's Pre-Touch Smartphone Screen

If you are holding the phone in one hand and you hover a finger from your other hand, you get the media controls shown above. If you are holding the phone in one hand and use your thumb from that same hand, you get a different set of controls that are more single-hand friendly. Instead of a slider to change the volume or move through the clip, you get a virtual dial. Hold the phone in two hands and hover two thumbs and you get a different set of controls too.

This can easily be extended to other applications, like in the camera app or in a mobile game. For example, pre-touch could be applied to your web browser. None of the hyperlinks appear when you’re just reading the article holding the phone in one hand. Hover your finger and suddenly the links appear in a “smart” fashion where your finger is hovering. It can also differentiate when you might be pressing the screen with one finger and hovering another finger from the same hand, bringing up contextual options like copying or sharing.

Since this is all sorts of experimental, there’s no saying when and if Microsoft could deploy pre-touch technology on future (Windows?) smartphones and devices. Based on this demo video though, pre-touch could provide an incredibly rich and more advanced experience, far more powerful than what 3D touch and pressure-sensitive screens are currently offering.


Via Microsoft Research Blog

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