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Microsoft's hover gestures for Windows phones are magnificent

Microsoft had been planning to introduce a unique 3D Touch feature with a flagship Windows phone back in 2014. While the device was canceled, the work behind Microsoft’s Kinect-like gestures lives on. In a new Microsoft Research video, the software maker is revealing some of the features it was working on under the guise of “pre-touch sensing for mobile interaction.”

Microsoft had been planning to use a number of 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 additional 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.

Microsoft’s 3D Touch work is seriously impressive

All of this work would have enabled Microsoft to have a truly unique interaction model, but The Verge understands the company canceled its flagship Windows phone as developers found it difficult to build compatible apps. Both Sony and Samsung have tried similar floating touch features for various Android apps, but nothing quite like this. Apple has also enabled its own 3D Touch technology, but the interactions are based upon holding your finger on the screen to reveal additional features. Apple’s 3D Touch is often confusing as you’re never sure how an app is going to react when you hold down, but Microsoft’s 3D Touch appears to anticipate and sense interactions and provide contextual features.

It’s not clear whether Microsoft will ever bring its 3D Touch work to the market. The software giant is largely 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 truly 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.

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