Two years ago, the term “3D phone” would more likely fill phone-watchers with anxiety than excitement, as ghosts of the ill-fated LG Thrill and HTC Evo 3D come home to haunt.
But unlike 2011’s efforts, which focused on 3D photography and gaming, companies’ new-wave 3D vision ranges from gestures and navigation to a 3D interface effect. Google has Project Tango, Microsoft has apparently inherited Nokia’s “McLaren” R&D, and even Amazon seems to be getting in on the act with rumors of a 3D smartphone.
Although there haven’t been any device announcements yet, Amazon’s June 18 event is right around the corner, followed by Google’s annual I/O developer conference a week after that on June 25, so prep your peepers for some extra dimension.
3D navigation and controls
According to rumors, Microsoft is working on a “3D” Windows phone that lets you control the device the way you would Microsoft’s Kinect gaming system for Xbox. But don’t start envisioning yourself choreographing elaborate gestures to dial up pizza delivery just yet. At this point, it’s probably better to think of the new technology as a navigational aid that taps into physical motions when your fingers aren’t touching the screen, and uses your hovering finger when they are.
For example, sensors around the phone might recognize that you’re laying down while you read, and temporarily lock the screen orientation so your contents don’t accidentally flip around. Sliding your finger along the phone’s spine might zoom in and out, according to The Verge, though it’s also easy to see how context-awareness could also let your walking digits scroll the page up and down in the browser, and raise or lower the volume when you’re on a call. Flipping the phone over or pocketing it could disconnect a call, and a deliberate wave of the hand over the screen could shelve notifications.
The project is said to contain an interface element as well, which is being called MixView. Hovering your finger over a live tile on the Start screen could cause it to pop up other options that you could select without physically tapping the tile; for instance, pulling up headline stories or a contact’s phone number or email address. Tech site WP Central describes it in more detail here.
Since these scenarios require more complex hardware and software to work, the first phone, allegedly code-named McLaren, has to have all the right sensors, presumably multiple cameras for tracking, as well as a depth sensor — just like the Microsoft Kinect. Although Nokia had reportedly been working on McLaren for years before Microsoft picked it up, the company’s experience with Kinect’s gestural gameplay fits in well.
Now, smartphone-makers have worked with gestures for years, and most current smartphones include some sort of motion awareness that can respond when you shake it or flip it over or raise it to your head. Samsung has gone a step further in some flagship phones and tablets by letting you hover your finger (or stylus) over, say, tiny thumbnails and drop-down menus to pop open larger previews.