3D Touch not dead as Microsoft Research continues to investigate mobile implementations (video)

At ACM CHI 2016, a top conference for Human-Computer Interaction, Microsoft Research is presenting a new paper on 3D touch like tech for mobile interactions. With the cancelled Nokia Lumia 1030 device, Microsoft was originally planning to bring 3D touch to mobile devices, but later it dropped its plans. Apple’s iPhone also has similar 3D touch feature but it remains a gimmick with poor support from 3rd party developers. In the iPhone’s case “force touch” involves hard pressing the touch screen for different action, with 3D Touch it means hovering over the surface for the same effect.

Now, Microsoft Research has posted a video exploring 3D touch via a self-capacitance touchscreen that can sense multiple fingers above a mobile device, as well as grip around the screen’s edges. This capability opens up many possibilities for mobile interaction. Watch the video demo above.

For example, using pre-touch in an anticipatory role affords an “ad-lib interface” that fades in a different UI—appropriate to the context—as the user approaches one-handed with a thumb, two-handed with an index finger, or even with a pinch or two thumbs. Or we can interpret pre-touch in a retroactive manner that leverages the approach trajectory to discern whether the user made contact with a ballistic vs. a finely-targeted motion. Pre-touch also enables hybrid touch + hover gestures, such as selecting an icon with the thumb while bringing a second finger into range to invoke a context menu at a convenient location. Collectively these techniques illustrate how pre-touch sensing offers an intriguing new back-channel for mobile interaction.

Even with this pre-touch idea, I’m not fully convinced of having such interactions with my mobile device all the time. One good thing to take away with the pre-touch project is the fact that 3D Touch is not dead as Microsoft Research continues to explore around it and it may come back in the future in much better form.

What do you think of 3D touch in general on smartphones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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