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Microsoft Reportedly Prepping Kinect-Like Phone

Microsoft Reportedly Prepping Kinect-Like Phone
By Barry Levine

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A key question is whether the gestural interaction of a Kinect-like phone from Microsoft is a frill that doesn't add much value -- the Galaxy S4 gestural controls are reportedly not being used much -- or if the capabilities of a Kinect-like phone could become a key differentiator that could position Microsoft more substantially in the smartphone market.

What if a smartphone had the sensing-gestures-in-the-air capability of Microsoft's Kinect controller? That's a question Microsoft has been asking itself, and, according to a new report, Redmond may finally have the answer.

The report, by Web site The Verge, said that the tech giant is adding features similar to those in the Kinect game controller to future flagship handsets. Citing "sources familiar with Microsoft's plans," it said that at least one such device -- currently codenamed McLaren -- will released this year in the U.S. Reportedly, this first device will be positioned as a successor to the Lumia 1020.

While the technology appears related to Kinect, the device was apparently in development at Nokia before Microsoft bought that company. Internally, the technology is known as 3D Touch or Real Motion.

Phone to Ear

In addition to allowing interaction without the need for a user to touch the screen, the device could offer a variety of new capabilities. Sensors around the phone could allow a user to hang up a call simply by putting the device in a pocket, or answer a call by holding the phone to an ear. Setting the phone on a table enables a speakerphone, mute can be set by holding the phone to the chest or covering it with a hand, and alerts can be dismissed by a wave of a hand over the device.

The gesture-detection is also expected to be sensed on the sides of the phone, so that, for instance, a zoom can occur when the user drags a finger on the side of the device. Grabbing the device could turn it on, and hovering a finger over a tile and tapping down in the air could open up a tile and show smaller tiles.

Since late last year reports have surfaced indicating that there are two models in development at Nokia that offer in-the-air gestural interaction using 3D Touch technology. Samsung also offers some Air Gestures in its Galaxy S4 for accepting phone calls or scrolling Web pages. Additionally, Amazon is expected to release a phone on June 18 that is rumored to utilize 3D features so that, for instance, the interface tilts toward the user if the phone is tilted.

A Gestural Frill?

Ross Rubin, Principal Analyst for industry research firm Reticle Research, pointed out to us that Intel also has been touting 3D technology to detect gestures on a computer.

A key question is whether this kind of interaction is a frill that doesn't add much value -- the Galaxy S4 gestural controls are reportedly not being used much -- or if it could become a key differentiator that could position Microsoft more substantially in the smartphone market than it is now.

Rubin told us that "the applications [of this technology] for every day usage may not be compelling, but it's a strong enabling technology that developers could use to create new kinds of apps." This could lead to a variety of apps specifically made to employ air gestures, with distinctive capabilities.

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