Microsoft Teases Smartphone Hover Gestures

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Tapping your phone to control what it does? Pssh. That's old school. If Microsoft has its way, you'll soon be able to interact with your Windows Phone device in all sorts of new and interesting ways, and you won't have to tap your smartphone nearly as much to do it.

A new video from Microsoft's Research team highlights some of the new smartphone interactions Microsoft is working on, and they mostly center around two different elements: recognizing how you're holding your phone and offering you different options based on your grip; and giving you additional ways to interact with your phone by hovering your fingers over it.

"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," said Ken Hinckley, a researcher at the company, according to a Microsoft blog post.

In the research team's video, you can clearly see the phone registering the strength (and direction) of a person's grip as he or she holds the device. That's in addition to the phone recognizing multi-touch gestures, including the distance one's fingers—once initially recognized—are from the phone's screen.

In practical terms, this allows Microsoft to create a user interface that appears only when one's fingers are starting to approach the phone, which "spontaneously presents interactive elements just in the nick of time," notes the video's narrator. It's a cleaner, more elegant way to approach interactivity. You don't have an ugly UI stuck on whatever it is you're trying to view, nor do you have to constantly tap at your device to pop the UI on and off.

Additionally, when the smartphone detects that it's being held in a particular way—say, one-handed—then the device's UI can adjust to match.

In this example, moving one's fingers closer to the phone (if you're only holding it from the right side) pops up UI elements on the device's right side, and they might not be as diverse as what you'd get in the "normal" UI. In Microsoft's example, holding the phone one-handed only gives you back, forward, pause, and volume controls, instead of a slider bar to show where you are in the video or other options for setting up video looping, adjusting the audio, or modifying the playback rate.

Microsoft has plenty of other use cases in mind for a hover-sensing phone, including using the technology to present a "clutter-free" Web browsing experience—one where hyperlinks only appear when your hand approaches your device, since you'd only really need to see them if you were going to tap on them (right?).

Though it's unclear if, or when, Microsoft's research might make its way into an actual Microsoft smartphone, the team behind the hover interactions will be presenting its paper later this month at the Association for Computing Machinery's CHI conference.

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