18 May 2016 ~ 4 Comments

Microsoft proposes a Phone which could predict touch


Touch screens have been around for a long time. Initial examples were not very sophisticated and expensive to manufacture. Elographics built the first touch screen with a translucent surface in 1974. The first computer with touch screen elements was the HP-150 in 1983, but it was not a success. In 1993, Apple released the Newton PDA and IBM the smartphone called Simon with limited touchscreen features.

The major breakthrough came from Apple when they released their new touch screen smartphone called the iPhone on June 29, 2007. Today pretty much every phone manufacturer delivers a touch screen phone and the next development in touchscreen technology seemed to be Apple with its ForceTouch which measures the pressure applied on the screen.

Microsoft has stirred the market with a research project announced in April called Pre-Touch Sensing for Mobile Interaction. Ken Hinckley, a principal researcher at Microsoft who led the project, said the research is based on a whole different philosophy of interaction design. The research uses the phone’s ability to sense how you are gripping the device as well as when and where the fingers are approaching it.

Pre-touch sensing effectively allows the smartphone interface to be turned off until it detects a finger approaching the screen. The term used for this action is called a “nick of time” user interface which could, for example, hide the player controls on a video until they are needed. The technology starts approaching artificial intelligence when you realise that because the smartphone can detect how it is being held, it could also determine which hand a particular finger belongs to. So, if you were using the phone one-handed, pre-touch sensing could deliver a different interface than if you were holding it with two hands—allowing you to easily scrub through a video with just your thumb, or offering a different keyboard depending on what fingers you have available.


The technology offers many possible improvements to the way we use our mobile devices. It should be possible to have much better precision when tapping small on-screen elements. For example, if you’re reading a webpage in your mobile browser, the UI could highlight the link you’re trying to tap before you even tap it. It would also give mobile users the equivalent of a right-click. You could tap a file or icon with one finger, then hover your thumb over the screen to select between options in a contextual menu.

Although this development is still at the research stage, it offers very exciting possibilities for innovative development if existing technologies. But like all of Microsoft Research’s projects, there’s no telling whether or not a smartphone with pre-touch sensing will ever come out of the prototype phase—especially as Microsoft winds down its Nokia smartphone business.

How innovative do you think this technology is? And will it change the way we interact with our phones forever?

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07 February 2016 ~ 1 Comment

How Windows Phone is growing faster than Apple and Android in the UK

Windows Phone is regarded by many as not being able to compete with the mighty Apple iOS and Google’s Android-powered smartphones. Indeed, we’d usually agree with the argument that Microsoft is “doomed to irrelevance in the mobile age”. However, it may be time to reconsider the reports of the imminent death of Microsoft’s smartphone operating system. According to the latest figures, it certainly is not dying in the UK.

Smartphone operating system market shares for the year ending December 2015 compared to the year end 2014 shows some interesting trends. Android’s market share grew by 1.8 percent while Apple’s iOS declined by 3.1 percent. Meanwhile, Windows Phone showed better growth than Android at 2.3 percent (albeit from a much lower base).

A curious fact which emerges from the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech global analysis shows that the UK is the only Western market where Microsoft phones are showing growth. In China, Windows showed a 0.5 percent growth in a market currently dominated by Apple.

The performance of Windows Phone in the UK is probably linked to the success of Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL handsets which were launched in November. Both phones have been well received by the public and if they had been released earlier in 2015 the UK sales growth for Windows Phone would have been even more impressive. This success contradicts Gartner’s view last year, which predicted that the Lumia won’t have much of an impact on Microsoft’s dismal performance in the global markets.

It’s not all good news for Microsoft though as the overall Windows Phone market share has tumbled across the globe to 2.2 percent and analysts do not see much hope for improvement from that base. Without strong support from OEM partners and mobile app development, the future looks bleak for Microsoft mobile. However, the new Lumia handsets are very popular with users who want a functional smartphone without much need for additional software or applications. And this market will probably keep driving the sales of Windows Phone.

What do you think? Where do you see Windows Phone this time next year?

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12 November 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Microsoft Band 2 set to launch in UK mid-November

The Microsoft Band tracks your heart rate, exercise, calorie burn and sleep quality, and keeps you connected with email, text, and calendar alerts

Microsoft recognises that to grow and compete in the very competitive consumer technology market it needs to be both a device and software leader. For decades, Microsoft took control of and monopolised the software market, leaving others to fight over who would build the devices which would run Microsoft products. But the market changed in the ’90s largely because Apple started making devices which were both fun to use and desirable to own. iPods, iPhones and iPads are high-tech toys which helped build one of the world’s largest and most profitable businesses. It did not take the market long to recognise the need to have products which could compete with the Apple offerings.

Today the market for technology accessories is huge and wearable devices are seen as the next big consumer product for major technology companies. Inevitably Apple is very dominant in this market and the Apple Watch is the benchmark against which competitive products are measured.

A niche market has developed in the wearable market for fitness monitors. The main players are the Fitbit Charge HR, the Fitbit Surge and the Jawbone Up4. The Apple Watch fulfils many of the functions of the fitness band but its pricing puts it in a different league. Microsoft has been a minor contender in this market with the original Band, but the new Band 2 which is being released in the UK this month may just be the device to elevate Microsoft to the position of a serious contender for the title of the fitness band to buy if you are serious about your training or sport. Launch price is expected to be around £200.

Compared to the original Band, the Microsoft Band 2 has a cleaner and more integrated design replacing the flat screen of its predecessor with a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 covered OLED touchscreen that curves around the wrist. In comparison, the Apple Watch sports a 312×390 pixel resolution AMOLED display with curved edges.

The main players in the fitness device market come with fitness tracking features such as heartrate monitors and step counters. The Microsoft Band takes it a step further with UV exposure tracking, oxygen consumption and built-in GPS. Microsoft Band, UP4 and Charge HR also have built-in sleep tracking features. While the Apple Watch doesn’t have a native app to do this, the function can be added through third-party apps on the App Store.

The Microsoft Band works with iPhone, Android, or Windows phones and is designed to be more than a fitness tracker. While it does track your calories, sleep, and steps, the band is also designed to send you email and call notifications, calendar alerts, and social media updates. Add to that its robust fitness capabilities — including GPS mapping, continuous heart-rate monitoring, workout coaching, and sensors that measure the sun’s intensity — and you may start to wonder what the Band can’t do.

As it developed a more modern device, Microsoft adopted the goal of helping users “take control of health and fitness in a more personalized way,” said Lindsey Matese, member of the Microsoft Band and Health teams.

Microsoft asked themselves, “what would cyclists, joggers, and gym rats want?”
Round two of Microsoft Band is designed to be more flexible for people who wear it during their workouts as well as working hours. The desire for a more comfortable device is one of several pieces of feedback the team learned during the testing process when it surveyed customers on its functionality.

Microsoft Band 2 feels less like an awkward accessory and more like a comfortable bracelet. This is due to the softer material and a curved, full-colour OLED display. We think they have certainly delivered a product which is going to make the opposition play catch-up. It ticks all the boxes and the activity tracking is great. Features such as the Heartrate measurement and the Golf GPS are very good and could be the deal-breaker for many potential users.

The Apple Watch is probably a better watch, although it lacks GPS and sleep tracking. But it is far more expensive, so cannot really be compared with the fitness devices in the market. We think Microsoft has a winner and it will be interesting to see how the market responds to the Band 2.

What are your thoughts? Has Microsoft delivered on its promise to deliver the best fitness tracker in an attractive package? Will buyers start thinking Band 2 when they look for a sporting wearable?

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