Before the age of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, IBM introduced the Simon Personal Communicator in 1994. According to Time, the gadget is considered the first smartphone, and even featured a notable hallmark of today’s smartphones: a touchscreen.

In today’s age, physical keyboards on smartphones can seem a tad archaic. But touchscreens may be poised for a revolution.

Microsoft Research is designing mobile devices that anticipate a user’s touch. In a video and paper entitled “Pre-Touch Sensing for Mobile Interactions,” the company outlined their use of anticipatory techniques that gives a mobile device the ability to sense its users grip and finger movement prior to actual contact with the screen.

So say you’re watching a video on your smartphone, and you feel like pausing it. Well, when your finger enters within a certain range of the screen, playback controls will pop up, at the ready for your finger to select a function. Once the finger is withdrawn, the menus disappears. Further, the playback options and functions expand when the user employs both thumbs in tandem, which is different from the pinch-to-zoom function

“It uses the hands as a window to the mind,” said Microsoft’s Ken Hinckley, who led the study, in a statement. “I think it has huge potential for the future of mobile interaction … 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."

When scrolling through a website’s menu, hyperlinks reveal themselves when the finger approaches. A multiple finger approach is read by the screen differently, and gives users the option to swipe forwards or backwards.  

As Microsoft Research states in their video, “pre-touch affords interfaces that are more responsive to the fine-grain context of use.”

Microsoft Research will present pre-touch and other research advances at the ACM CHI 2016, a human-computer interaction conference being held from May 7 to 12 in San Jose, Calif.


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