Over at the site @evleaks, a report about Nokia's (now Microsoft's) smartphone road map for 2014 has been teased with some device names like 'McLaren,' 'Rock,' 'Tesla' and 'Superman.' While 'Rock' is reported to be an entry-level Lumia 530 for T-Mobile and cricket, 'Tesla' and 'Superman' are described as mid-range devices for AT&T and Verizon, though no specifics are given. The Verge has previously described 'Superman' though as having a 4.7 inch display and a massive 5 MP front-facing camera.
I can add to the story quite a bit, specifically some details around 'McLaren.' But first, I should mention that AT&T is slated to get the new green Lumia 1520 sometime in late June or July as part of the Windows Phone 8.1 launch. I don't know if it'll be 32 GB internal or 16 GB, but with micro SD expansion, the ability to install apps and games to the card and 128 GB support, it doesn't matter anymore.
Likewise, I've heard that AT&T and T-Mobile are also getting the Lumia 635, which is the affordable, entry-level Windows Phone 8.1 device with LTE bands. It's the same as the Lumia 630, just faster data speeds.
- AT&T Black - 7/16 or 7/17 $99
- T-Mobile White - 7/16 or 7/17 $129
Those dates and pricing are certainly subject to change. The prices seem to me high for an on-contract device, especially with the Lumia 520 on AT&T going for $59 these days, so I'm hoping those are for the pay-as-you-go plans. If that proves to be the case, those are kickass prices for what is a decent entry level Windows Phone 8.1 device with a quad-core processor.
'McLaren' and 3D Touch
Referencing @evleaks they note that "The fall flagship, then, will be a device codenamed McLaren. Shipping in time for the holidays, McLaren should see wide release, with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all reportedly signed up to carry it."
McLaren is evidently the new nickname for what was previously called Goldfinger, or a carrier variance.
Indeed I have heard that the next flagship will not be an AT&T exclusive as well, with McLaren/Goldfinger launching in November. Releasing a Windows Phone 'hero' device on all major carriers is something many of you have been asking for, and it now seems like you'll get your wish.
Some of the model names include RM964, RM965, RM1001, RM1002, though the exact configuration of the hardware for this device is currently not known.
The specifications of McLaren/Goldfinger though are less important than what it does, which is 3D Touch. The Verge's Tom Warren revealed the existence of this technology back in November. While Samsung tried with the Galaxy S4 to use the front-facing camera as a motion detector, it was obviously a hack and a gimmick. The notion of real non-touching gesture support requires dedicated, specific hardware.
How the 'McLaren' achieves this is unclear, though you can surmise that Microsoft is leveraging what they've learned from their Kinect project for Xbox. Some of the features include APIs for gestures, side interactions and even heat maps.
Believe it or not, some of these APIs for developers are in the current SDK, they're just not visible. What this mean though is developers will have access to this 3D Touch technology for their apps. It also means that Microsoft will have a small batch of third-party apps supporting this 3D Touch technology on launch day.
So, is 3D Touch a gimmick? It will depend on how often it's adopted by developers and how well it works. So far, it's the hardware behind the technology that is slowing down development. Presumably there's some proprietary work done here by Microsoft, as I've heard prototypes of this phone – sans 3D Touch – have been floating around since December.
What can you do with 3D Touch?
One of the coolest uses of this 3D Touch that I've heard about is called 'Mix View.'
I don't want to post images, though you can think of it this way: Imagine a Tile on your Start screen, as your finger hovers above the Tile, it wiggles a bit, giving you a visual indication that you're giving focus to the element. When pressing down in the air (without touching the Tile) it "explodes" into many smaller Tiles, up to eight with varying sizes, and each revealing custom content from that app. For example, a contact's Tile could display their phone number, last email, a text message, photos, etc. App developers can configure it to reveal anything so our Windows Phone Central app could display maybe top two or three headlines.
It's a fascinating expansion of the Live Tile concept, allowing more than the limited two-sided Tile that we have today.
Edit: As pointed out in comments, Mix View is very similar in design to what was originally found in the Zune desktop software (and seen above). Check out this video on Vimeo to see more of the old Zune MixView UI.
Notice also how this is different than the Microsoft Research project on interactive Tiles for Windows 8. While the Microsoft Research version is great for desktop or tablets, it is perhaps not ideal for Phones that have smaller displays. It should be evident though that Microsoft is looking to take the Tile paradigm to the next level.
So far, Microsoft has admittedly been playing catch up to the completion for smartphones. One could argue that Windows Phone 8.1 brings Microsoft's smartphone OS to near parity with iOS and Android in terms of raw features (there will always be differences and advantages to each, though).
Goldfinger/McLaren and 3D Touch look to be the first major hardware and software innovation that will allow Microsoft to surpass their competition. However, even Amazon's purported smartphone, due to be announced in the coming weeks, uses some 3D gesture technology, which means Microsoft is not alone on this front. Amazon's phone will be running an open-source version of Android, like their Kindle Fire range of tablets, though Amazon still has an uphill battle in getting a new phone on to carriers (they will probably sell direct, for obvious reasons).
In conclusion, whatever McLaren/Goldfinger turns out to be, it will be the big thing to watch this fall. I can say I'm certainly intrigued by the prospect of 3D Touch, though, like many things, a lot of questions remain.