For years, tech outlets have discussed the much-rumored Surface Phone, a device that become almost mythical. The unicorn of the smartphone world, Microsoft offered few official notices that the Surface Phone (codenamed McLaren) actually existed.
Surface chief Panos Panay once suggested its existence by saying a Surface Phone was his baby. However, Microsoft’s game-changing device has remained a mystery… until today. In a Windows Developer video, vice president and Technical Fellow Laura Butler confirmed McLaren was real.
Before getting into what Butler said, some background on the Surface Phone is necessary. This was the device Microsoft was expected to transform the smartphone market with. It was almost certainly a folding screen handset. It would also have been something utterly unique on the market, according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
In the video, Butler confirms McLaren was a real device: “What is some secret interesting top-secret stuff about Windows phone that you always wanted to know?” Butler says. “Oh, so many things.”
Butler describes one feature called Hover Touch, which worked in a similar way to Apple’s 3D Touch. By reading X, Y, and Z coordinates, the Surface Phone screen could detect where finger placement was coming before it touched the screen and acted before the touch:
“So it wasn’t that it was hover touch, it was 3D touch,” Butler says. So, you’ve got an X, Y, and Z coordinate. As your finger approached the plane of the phone, we knew what direction you were coming from. Keyboard and typing would have been phenomenal on that thing. Cause now we have even more info, so we can account for parallax, and fat finger behavior.”
“you didn’t have to actually take yourself out of the flow of your life to quickly see stuff. That was part of the idea behind Metro, was that the most important things were there, it wasn’t distracting UI, this was even a level above it. You’d didn’t have to kind of go launch into apps, interact with them to just say, do I care about this e-mail message. You could just get your finger close.”
Elsewhere, Butler confirmed Microsoft was aiming to achieve the best camera technology on a smartphone. Unfortunately, she does not detail how the company would have done that but did say McLaren had a better camera module than on the Lumia 1020, widely considered one of the best smartphone snappers ever.
Finally, Butler says the Surface Phone has Bluetooth keyboard support. She says the device would support a genuine landscape mode that would work with Bluetooth keyboards to create “a phenomenal mini phablet”.
All in the Past
It is worth noting that Butler talks about Project McLaren in the past tense, effectively killing the idea Microsoft is still working on a smartphone. That tallies with reports last year that suggested the company has turned its folding screen technology (Andromeda) to a laptop-style device codenamed Centaurus.
Interestingly, it seems Butler is going to release more information about McLaren in the near future. She confirmed she has promised to offer more details to a tech journalist for the folks at Windows Central, so we will be on the look out for more details.