Apple could learn a thing or two from this very cool Microsoft Research project, showing a design for “precognitive touch screens.”
Basically, Microsoft built a “self-capacitive touch screen,” which is fancy-pants science talk for a phone that can sense when your fingers are nearby and display the controls you need, right when you need them.
The video, posted in late April 2016, explains it best:
It’s a pretty jaw-dropping concept (and similar to Project Soli technology that Google is developing). Microsoft calls it “pre-touch.”
Move your finger close to the screen, controls appear. Move it away, they vanish. If you’re using it one-handed, only the most common controls show up, right beneath your fingers. It also means waving a few fingers over the screen for highlighting content. If your fingers are moving fast, it might know to disregard a wild touch of the screen, but that a slow touch was meant to hit a small icon on the screen.
Beyond even those examples, the video shows all kinds of other potential here.
“I think it has huge potential for the future of mobile interaction,” says Microsoft principal researcher Ken Hinckley, who developed this project, in a blog entry. “And I say this as one of the very first people to explore the possibilities of sensors on mobile phones, including the now ubiquitous capability to sense and auto-rotate the screen orientation.”
Like many projects out of the Microsoft Research labs, “pre-touch” screens may never see the light of day — though CEO Satya Nadella has made a point of fast-tracking certain sci-fi technologies into real commercial products.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s phone business is struggling, so we may never see it in a Windows 10 Mobile device. But if Apple is paying attention this could be an amazing addition to the iPhone, even if we might have to wait for the iPhone 8 or 9.
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