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Microsoft Lumia 950 originally had gestures that made it much 'smarter'

To many, the launch of Microsoft's Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL was somewhat of a disappointment. While both devices were an improvement over previous Windows phones, they did very little to stand out from the rest of the market. Sure, they had great cameras for the time, but any positives in the hardware at launch were quickly overshadowed by buggy software, most of which did not get resolved until several months into the product's lifecycle.

The devices that shipped in November 2015 were not the devices Microsoft had originally planned. During development, in an attempt to stabilize the platform, Microsoft cut several notable hardware and software capabilities, including pen support, and advanced hardware gestures. While pen support is pretty self-explanatory, the removed gesture support is much more interesting.

Hands-on with Lumia 950 gestures

Early Lumia 950 prototypes featured what Microsoft internally referred to as "active sides." These early prototypes featured capabilities that allowed the phone to sense the sides of the handset, which enabled all kinds of additional functionality in the form of gestures. This functionality was initially worked on with the Lumia McLaren, a device that was canceled over a year before the Lumia 950 shipped.

I recently got my hands on one of these early Lumia 950 prototypes, which came with a working pre-release version of these gestures. It appears Microsoft was going to use gestures to make the Lumia 950 "smarter."

Microsoft was apparently building this functionality into an app called Touch & Gestures, which ended up shipping as just Touch. You can find the Touch app in the extras area in Settings on your Lumia 950. In early prototypes, this app also had an area dedicated to gestures, with Microsoft describing the feature as allowing the user to "interact naturally with your phone."

Every single gesture that Microsoft was working on could be turned on or off, meaning if you didn't like some of the gestures, you didn't have to use them. There are five different categories of gestures, with a total of 17 specific gestures for the user to enable:

  • Wake up the phone.
  • Screen and keyboard.
  • Call handling.
  • Ringtone and alerts.
  • Cortana.

Here's a quick rundown of each gesture per-category.

Wake up the phone

There are only two gestures under this category, the first of which is something that shipped: Double-tap to wake. The other gesture enabled the ability to show the glance screen when you pick up the phone, kind of like lift to wake.

Screen and keyboard

There are four gestures under this category, all of which are designed to make using the phone easier. The first gesture is to "keep the screen on when I'm holding the phone." When enabled, the screen will not dim or go to sleep when you are holding the device, meaning you don't need to keep tapping on the display every 30 seconds to prevent it from going off.

The second gesture is more useful to me. When enabled, the device can detect which orientation you're using the phone, and lock or unlock auto rotate based on whether it makes sense to do so. For example, if I'm holding the phone regularly and I go to lay down, the phone won't flip the screen around as it assumes I'm still using the phone in portrait mode, which I usually am.

The other two gestures are for the keyboard, which when enabled let the user double-tap either side of the phone to dock the keyboard to the right or left of the screen. This one would make more sense on the Lumia 950 XL variant.

Call handling

There are five gestures in this category, most of which are run of the mill. The first three are all about answering and hanging up calls, such as raising the phone to your ear to answer an incoming call, flipping the phone onto its screen to ignore it, and putting the phone in your pocket to hang up a call.

The other two are all about speaker mode. When enabled, you can put the phone down onto a table to automatically turn on speaker mode, and you can also set it so phone calls automatically answer in speaker mode when you press answer without holding the phone.

Ringtone and alerts

This category is a continuation of the one above and includes an additional five gestures. The first two are about silencing incoming calls, allowing you to silence the call when you hold the phone, or when you cover the screen. The other three gestures are for alarms, which lets you flip the phone over, hold the phone, or cover the screen to silence an alarm.

Cortana

This is the final category, which includes only one additional gesture. This gesture is a unique one, which I think would convince more people to use their digital assistants if it was available on more phones. This gesture will activate Cortana when the user raises the phone to their ear.

So, instead of opening the Cortana app and pressing the microphone button to begin speaking, you hold the phone to your ear and start talking instead. Cortana will answer your request in the earpiece, so nobody has to know that you're speaking to an AI.

What could have been ...

When in use, all of these gestures make the Lumia 950 feel like a much smarter handset. The phone knows when I'm holding it so that it doesn't auto rotate when I don't need it to and will stop ringing if a phone call comes in and I'm already holding the device. It's the little things like this that make using a phone pleasant, and the Lumia 950 didn't have any of that when it launched.

It's a shame these gestures never made it into the final product. Even today, most of these gestures aren't available on even the top-end Android phones. Using gestures to make the phone work for you is an excellent way of enhancing productivity when using the phone. Hopefully, Microsoft's future mobile efforts include this type of functionality.

What are your thoughts on these canceled features? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

71 Comments
  • Would have been really nice. I really don't understand the article's reasoning behind their removal. I have a feeling that they were removed because MS, by the time the phones were released, had lost interest in them. Ol' Nads had taken over by then of course. I really hope, when the not-Phone finally arrives, Ol' Nads will have left. I fear that is a little too much to hope for though, so we could well see a similar sequence of events play out again. I continue to hope not and purchase as if it will all come good, but Ol' Nads presence is hardly a factor that provides confidence in MS products.
  • The L950 was also really buggy at release. They probably couldn't get these features working well and have time to fix the stability issues.
  • You know, I don't even read your post, I just give them a thumbs down. Why don't you get a life?
  • Not all of his comments are in left field. This one would be one of his accurate ones as it is the same thing said in the article.
  • Yes, because his experience with the Lumia 950 is the same experience everyone had /s
  • Everything's bleached said is crap.. Period.
  • He literally said what the article did.
  • Your comments about Ol' Nads is one hundred percent on point!
  • Some of these gestures were already there on WP 8.1. I don't remember whether it was built into the settings of the phone or if we had to install another app, but anyway I really liked using these. And the ability to speak to Cortana by raising your phone to your ear and talking like as if you were having a phone call with your assistant seems really cool. Too bad they didn't included it in the final product.
  • Yeah, it sure seems that would have made a real difference for Cortana use, at least among those of us already wielding MS handsets.
  • Yes, I remember that too, in WP 8.1 it was a (I think) Microsoft Garage app that you could install called gestures beta, which gave you some of that functionality, mainly to do with calls: answer by raising you phone to your ear, flip your phone to silence it etc. However, they were not very reliable, I would say 1/5 times raise to answer would not work.
  • I was on Verizon and Win 8.1 took forever to be ok'd by Verizon. A full 6 months plus after ATT. I never understood why. I like 8.1 better than W10M. But hard for me to compare 8.1 to W10M after a number of years of improvements.
  • Yep, Lumia 1020 had a gestures app and it worked very well. I don't recall it not working for me. Raise to ear to answer a call, set screen side up to change to speaker phone, screen face down to end call. If it worked on the 1020, I can't make my brain understand why a more capable 950 couldn't handle it. But then again, I was using my 1020 until end of 2016 when I switched to the Idol 4s.
  • That was down to Nokia actually, not Microsoft.
  • That was all Microsoft. It was from Microsoft Garage.
  • HTC had some of these gestures, I think. but they were specifically for HTC phones.
  • Yep, my HTC HD7 had some of those on Windows Phone 7. It detected if it was in a pocket/bag that would make the phone ring louder, and you could flip your phone to mute calls. There's probably a few others I'm forgetting, but I couldn't believe they were missing in WP8 and WM10
  • sure some of these features were there on WP8.1,
  • Perhaps it was a question of testing and lacking confidence how these would be received. Hopefully, with the time they're taking with Andromeda (I know that's not a direct phone replacement), they're being thoughtful and careful with these so they are both ready (not half-baked) and integral to the design so they feel natural. Personally, I like gestures when they're really intuitive or don't get in the way, but dislike them otherwise. The one about sensing when not to auto-rotate would be wonderful. I always look at my phone when I go to bed and the auto-rotate there always annoys me. Similarly going through doors -- turning my hand to reach for the door always makes my phone rotate, then I have to wait 1-2 seconds for it to flip back. On the other hand, gestures that you have to learn to use, things like 2 or 3 finger swipes, they're fine if there are other ways to do the same thing, but when those are the ONLY way to do something, I think that's a really bad UI, because you can't figure it out by looking at the screen. You should never have to read instructions or be shown by someone else how to use a modern touch device.
  • I would not hold my breath waiting for andromeda, that just seems like waiting for unicorns. I very much doubt that we will ever see that because the ms ecosystem has withered since Nadella pulled the pin on phones. He simply did not understand that computing, in the 21st century, has an entry point called a phone and without one, ms misses the boat .... Big time!
  • I currently use the setting that automatically switches the phone to speaker when you pull the phone away from your face, and then switches back when you bring the phone back to your face.
  • I loved that one
  • This phone was supposed to have many other things, but Microcrap decided to *** it up as always, starting with an utterly buggy OS.
  • "Hopefully, Microsoft's future mobile efforts include this type of functionality." Ok, but more than that I hope that there will be "future mobile efforts" from Microsoft...
  • A lot of the features were in the OS you just had to dig to find them. like flip to silence, auto speaker and such.
  • Time to transfer these gestures to Surface Andy...
  • May be these features were not stable. Hence Microsoft decided to get rid of them to improve stability which never actually improved.
  • If Microsoft had given themselves six more months to improve Windows 10 Mobile and make the Lumia 950's everything they needed to be (full Pen support, gestures, more polished design, and more reliable iris recognition) then I feel they would've have a much more positive reaction to their new mobile platform. But at this point Microsoft was already planning to drop Windows 10 Mobile, I fear.
  • Well... it actually goes more deeper than that...
  • They could have kept 8.1 running for a full year after W10 was released and another 6 months to get W10M stable before shipping the 950. They could have taken the better chips and screen on the 950 and loaded onto an 8.1 device. But I guess they went "all-in" on W10 and decided to cut 8.1 quickly. Maybe 8.1 on a PC was a bad idea, but not on a smartphone.
  • I miss my 950.... but it's in good hands at the moment, better than just sitting on my desk for when I want to play panzer dragoon.... i mean crimson dragon.
  • As hard of a pill as it is to swallow, this article clearly shows why it's better Nadella callously choked the life out of W10M. Frankly, it was a big distraction for them. In business terms one would say that W10M had little ROI (Return on Investment). Now that they're free from its shackles we see Wall Street rewarding Nadella for a brilliant move with a tripling of their stock price. Nadella's doing what a CEO of a publicly traded company is supposed to do, put his emotion aside and seek solely the interests of investors by means of bigger revenues. You have to have ice in your veins. That means focusing on efforts that have the most ROI. And he's doing that with Azure and Office 365.
  • Microsoft's increase in share price has absolutely nothing to do with Nadella getting rid of the mobile division. Microsoft has been building AZURE and Office 365 into money making machines. Mobile was a very small portion of Microsoft that could have been kept alive from the Android royalty payments alone. Not sure why Nadella gove up those royalty payments either.
  • Foresight is not 20/20 for most people.
  • The problem with this sentiment is that Windows Phone wasn't the problem. The problem was that MS was ignoring other platforms for their own. They should have fully supported and developed for Android, iOS, and Mac OS, but they should have also continued the development of Windows Mobile with the eventual goal of consolidating around Core OS. This would allow the ecosystem to mature and keeps their foot in the door to take advantage of any new developments in the industry. Killing Windows Phone severely weakened UWP and Groove as well as their crown jewel Windows. Killing Groove effectively killed their entry into the Voice Assistant market, which killed any potential into the Home Hub market. Killing the band, has weakened a chance at the wearable market, which could potentially usurp the mobile phone market eventually. Instead of stepping back from markets, MS needs to invest in them so they can get the depth and breadth of a good functioning ecosystem. Even if they come out with another Mobile centric offering their ecosystem pales in comparison to Google, Amazon, and Apple at the moment. Unless the have some monumental effort to fill in the gaps with Car integration, Inexpensive TV client, Home hub, Speaker, wearables, etc... they won't have as much possibility of succeeding. Each of those niches are small but important at getting people fully into your ecosystem. Nadella's big mistake was looking at Windows Phone in isolation instead of as an important part of the whole. The whole reason Office 365 and Azure is such a power house isn't because any one application, it is because of the depth and breadth of the ecosystem, that is what MS needs to do to cultivate the consumer side is develop the ecosystem.
  • Yep, the only real solution is to remove the mobile development roadblock .... Satya Nadella. The man just has no vision beyond his personal tunnel.
  • It's too bad MS, who made multi-tasking on a computer commonplace, wasn't able to multi-task with phones. They ignored other platforms because of what? They weren't able to do apps for iOS and Android because SO much of their resources were going into MS-Mobile? I've been a MS supporter for a couple of decades now, and feel pretty abandoned that my phone, my band, my music app (Groove) and even Cortana have been basically pulled out from under me by a company that has more than enough people, resources and skills to have supported them all. Their two short-comings: vision and follow-through.
  • Who cares. I have my crappy android device now. Looking back only brings misery.
  • It's a shame what happened to the 950 series and how that terrible 950xl I had eventually forced me over to Android, which quickly forced me over to Apple. IF MS just had the guts to create their vision and STICK TO IT!!!! then Windows Mobile wouldn't be the dead failure it is now. SMDH. Microsoft's fault that one of their most ardent fans is now a fan of Apple.
  • I would argue that sticking to their vision is what caused Microsoft's mobile failures. After Windows Phone 7 totally flopped, they should have went back to the drawing board and released something totally different with version 8. Instead they released the same basic thing and it also inevitably flopped. Then they did it again with Windows 10 Mobile. Sticking with their failed vision was the issue.
  • USA has a ridiculous patent system so I would not be surprised if someone has already patented those gestures/interaction and that was the reason it never made it into a final device.
  • I loved Windows 10 mobile. I had every version starting with Windows Mobile 5. I had a 950 which I loved especially the camera. I finally had to move to a Galaxy Note and now have all of the Microsoft features that I loved including Timeline support, and Sticky Notes in OneNote. If done right, Android and Microsoft apps and services provide an excellent mobile experience. It really is nice to have modern features such as VR. I think that in the end Microsoft will get it right with Windows Core OS because they are taking their time and trying to fix the app gap situation. The app gap didn't bother me until I switched to Android and saw what I was missing. When its said and done, I believe they will emerge with a strong mobile presence with apps on Android and Apple, plus a modern version of Windows 10 with plenty of apps that will run on mobile hardware and other devices that we are unaware of. I think that they made to right decision even though I didn't think so at the time. The future looks bright.
  • Soo much potential but lack of focus and dedication. Now most companies are scavenging these ideas and making it their own, it's just pathetic.
  • Forget the negative idiots who like the sound of their negativity I still use the 950 as well. I liked this phone and Microsoft erred not adding these gestures to make this handset even better. This handset was under rated even better than my current android. At least MS did not snoop on your activities like google does. It was a safer handset. Camera was even better than my android. It could have been better.
  • ...future mobile efforts? Like in a Surface Pro? I don't see the utility, but whatev
  • yes, it calls Andromeda shells the surface devices Names are the Surface journal is the foldable device, a Surface note is Smartphones and Surface watch.
  • ...
  • ...
  • Exactly
  • All I can say is the software/hardware integration must have been a pain in the ass. This also tells me that MSFT is creative. Sometimes your creative ideas are just to difficult to incorporate into a device. But it also tells me that MSFT has put a lot of work into handheld devices and simply won't throw out the work. Andromeda may or may not come. But if it does, it is because MSFT was able to take their creativity and integrate it into a device. Good Luck MSFT. My 950 still works, so I hope Andromeda arrives sooner rather than later.
  • Microsoft is creative? This gesture system harkened back to when it was still technically Nokia. So Microsoft had nothing to do with this in terms of idea creation.
  • It wss done by Microsoft not nokia namely Microsoft Garage. Nokia is/was actually overrated.
  • Actually some of these functionalities were already available on my HD 2 and developed specifically by HTC.
  • And btw hp ipaq used to have most of those gestures since early 2000 in windows mobile legacy version and also Symbian had that in some phones.
  • Good People you got to get windows phone to stay here with us. Microsoft must listen to us. Their fans, followers and the lovers. At least get us a surface phone if not Lumia.
  • I once used a Surface Pen on my Lumia 925 during an insider build and it worked for a couple of happy days. Who knows what an Andromeda device can achieve with gestures and add-on hardware like the prototype mobile game controllers we have seen?
  • "While both devices were an improvement over previous Windows phones." I stopped reading right there. As an owner of the 950 it was no where better than my other lumia devices. Windows 10 mobile was never better than Windows Phone 8.X.
  • +830
  • My take is please stop rubbing salt in the wound that was WM10 or W10P or whatever. I have been keeping my 950XL alive for 3 years vain hopes that Microsoft would keep improvements going at least and treat the fanbase with at least with a botique mindset until Andromeda, etc. I have been a Windows phone fan since the HTC MDA and really enjoyed the interface metaphor of the W8 and even W10. But now, I am forced onto the chaos that is Android with the Samsung on order as my 950XL is finally getting wierd like random black screens during phone calls, tempermental camera, volume buttons acting up, etc. Yeah! Icons! Back to the 1990's all over again!
  • I turned the page, moved back to Nokia (7 plus), the brand originally I has been directed to in early times, and continued to Lumia series ended up with Lumia 950
  • ws thinkin about nokia are they any good
  • They are restoring the brand good name as it was before the dawn of smartphones. I am very satisfied with the new phone especially in terms of applications availability and capabilities.
  • My lumia 820 is still going strong but it will surely die one day before too long. When that happens my feeling is that I'll go to a nkia phone and change to chromebook and the google office packages. I just do not trust MS while Nadella controls his board.
  • I have a 950 , for the apps purpose I need another phone but impossible to find or choose
    one as good as the 950 ( software ) iPhone or android are faster more recent etc etc but they dont have the windows use feeling
  • Thank you Zac for this interesting article. It ended up providing me an important clue on fixing a recent problem I've been having with my Lumia 950. I have not allowed the Touch app to run in the background (because I didn't know what it was and I'm a spaz about conserving battery life). There was a recent update to Touch that caused issues with my phone lighting back up when on a call and I pull the phone away from my ear. Allowing Touch (labeled "Gestures and Touch" in the setting to allow apps to run in background area) to run in the background fixed this issue. I've been noticing quite a bit of activity on app updates lately. Generally just core MS apps. I've noticed that recently photos getting location information is now fixed. This broke about two years ago and I gave up on if it was ever going to be fixed. I find it curious that they bothered to fix this. Could it be preparing for Andromeda?
  • These cool but it's safe to assume that anything in the extras and gadgets section of settings is things Nokia was working on for symbian. I'll bet the hardware still exists in our devices but was deleted when Nadella walked in the studio
  • There is at least one gesture under W10M: turn on speaker phone when putting the phone down. Go to Settings, system, phone, more audio routing settings
    => activate "During a call, turn-on the speaker when I move my phone away from my ear"
  • To quote a loser, like the Windows Phone, "At this point, what difference does it make?". Why are you still trying to have this conversation? If Microsoft hadn't been drastically mismanaged, then their technology would likely still be part of the equation (relevancy maters). If MS could have achieved just 1% of the world's population (7.5B according to Bing) that would equal a user base of 750,000,000, but sadly the stock holders wanted to keep those crumbs to themselves. That's why they put that idiot in charge of, at one time, one of the most influential technology companies in the world. I know it hasn't affected their bottom line, but I believe it will play out in history as one of the worst business decisions a technology company has ever made.
  • Once again this illustrates that the 950 was not ready for market. Windows 10 Mobile was only slightly above beta and not until the AU update were many bugs sorted out. Microsoft made sure that a sub-par device was on offer with little innovation. It was certainly "for the fans" and I bought one once the price dipped a bit. The Lumia 950s were nice devices. I loved mine and I hate using my Android phone daily. These additional innovations around gesture show there was much more going on with Windowsphone. The numerous reasons it failed are well documented. Mostly it was Microsoft's unfailing capability of making wrong decisions. At least they were consistent if nothing else. Reading this article just makes me sad again. The torture of Windowsphone never really goes.
  • Real shame Microsoft seem to not follow through with great idea's like this. They have all the great idea's/gadgets but no one ever knows or ends up seeing them (Andromeda anyone?)
  • Of course this was in development when Nadella took over and it probably scared the hell out of him because it looked like a winner and then he couldn't reasonably axe it. Better, from his perspective, to release something that would fail in the marketplace. Seriously, one must ask if Nadella is a google plant because he's undermined nearly every viable MS mobile phone.