There are a lot of ways in which you interact with your smartphone and the apps running on it—tap, swipe, pinch and long-press, all on the phone’s touch screen display. If you have the latest generation Apple iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, you can even use a series of hard and soft pressure presses to execute commands on compatible apps. But, that’s not all. Software giant Microsoft is working on a new way for users to interact with their phones, something they are currently calling “pre-touch".

What the company has developed is a system that tracks your fingers as they hover over the phone’s touch screen. Microsoft Research suggests that users can scroll through webpages, emails and messages, or controls in a music app that will light up when you bring the finger close to the display and open context menus in other apps depending on finger gesture. This sort of implementation will also allow for fine-grained controls, examples of which would include selecting portions of text, tap to highlight or even copy, paste and delete.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time such a feature has been introduced for smartphones. Samsung’s Air View feature, which is available on the Galaxy Note series of smartphones, offers similar functions by hovering the S-Pen stylus above the display. But, it is limited to selected Samsung apps, by and large.

While this is still in the research phase, and may or may not make it to the smartphones that you and I may be able to buy in the near future, it does pose a significant conundrum for Microsoft—can it go all out with this new technology? In terms of hardware, there are rumours that Microsoft will launch the Surface Phone next year, with bleeding edge hardware. And pre-touch would fit very well in that hardware spec sheet. But the bigger challenge will be to add the features across the new phone’s interface, and also a bunch of third-party apps to start off with, and adding more at a rapid pace subsequently.

And, there is always the danger that Microsoft could follow the path Apple took with the 3D touch feature. Though it was introduced with much fanfare last year in the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, it’s surprisingly missing from the last three Apple product launches—the iPad Pro 12.9, the iPad Pro 9.7 and the iPhone SE. For app developers, that is a bit of a tricky situation to be in—should they dedicate resources to integrate the feature in their app or not. No one is really sure if Apple itself is committing to this feature or not.

It is likely that Microsoft could indeed follow Apple’s approach, by introducing pre-touch with the Surface Phone, more as a demonstration of the technology and their prowess. And to add a bit of excitement to the market. But given the fact that Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform has always struggled in terms of apps compared to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, there is a chance that Microsoft could be pretty much left with this feature working on their own apps and not much else. We aren’t entirely sure how the mission to get developers to code universal apps that work over all Windows 10 devices (PCs, hybrids, phones and even the Xbox gaming console) will pan out in the coming months, but that could actually hold the key for pre-touch, such are the fine lines between success and failure.

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