As talk heats up about the expected 3D head tracking of Amazon’s(s amzn) smartphone, don’t count Microsoft(s msft) out of the handset gestures game. The company is working on a way to navigate around Windows Phone without touching the screen, using Kinect-like gestures to work with apps and games. A Monday morning report from The Verge suggests that Nokia’s successor to the Lumia 1020 (below), codenamed McLaren, will be the first Windows Phone with these features.
Aside from app interaction with gestures, the phone will use sensors to add more smarts to the gesture system, likely called 3D Touch or Real Motion:
“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, and others. Features like answering calls by holding the phone to your ear will be supported, alongside the ability to set the phone down on a table to enable speakerphone, or hang up a call by placing it in a pocket. Phones that support 3D Touch will use a number of hardware sensors to enable devices to mute when they are covered by hand or held to a chest, or to dismiss alerts by waving a hand in front of the screen.”
Sources tell The Verge that the project aims to remove buttons from the phone hardware as well: Grabbing the phone, for example, could wake the device because it realizes it was just picked up. And when the phone is held by its sides in portrait mode, it could automatically lock the orientation in that mode. These are little usability items that could improve the Windows Phone experience in a big way.
If Microsoft does bring a gesture-based interface to Windows Phone, using the handset’s front camera or other sensor to see hand movements, it won’t be the first. Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 debuted in 2013 with a few gestures of its own, allowing you to swipe through albums of images or scroll web pages without actually touching the phone.
First isn’t always best, though. Microsoft has an opportunity to improve upon the gesture-based interfaces already available in the market. That, along with the many improvements in Windows Phone 8.1, could accelerate sales of the phones as Microsoft continues to peck away at the competition.