There are a lot of ways to interact with smartphone apps using your fingers. You can tap, swipe, pinch, or long-press a touchscreen display. If you have a phone with a “force touch” or “3D touch” display, you can also use hard or soft presses.
But Microsoft is working on yet another way to interact with phones, using something the company calls “pre-touch.”
Right now, pre-touch sensing is still a research project. It might never actually be implemented on phones. But a video from Microsoft Research shows how the technology could be used.
Basically, the technology can detect your fingers when they’re hovering above the screen as well as the way you’re gripping your phone to anticipate where you’re planning to place your finger. It can then bring up appropriate context menus before you even touch the display.
For example, if you’re watching a video, a menu can pop up to let you pause, play, skip forward or back, or make other adjustments without you’re needing to first tap the screen.
The video player demo has a nifty feature where it can also figure out whether it should provide controls for single-handed or two-handed operation.
If you’re gripping the phone in both hands, menu items are shown on both the right and left. If you’re holding the phone in one hand and using the other to touch the screen, the menu items are in the middle. And if you’re holding it in one and using a thumb to control playback, you get a stripped down set of controls on just one side of the screen.
Alternately, you can perform some actions without even touching the screen at all. For example, the video shows a web browser that highlights text or links as you move your hand over the screen.