Rumors of a Nokia phone featuring 3D Touch navigation and gesture support go back to November 2013. Back then, the secret phone project went by the name Goldfinger, but at some point, it was changed to McLaren during development.
McLaren supposedly utilized hardware sensors to enable you to manipulate things on-screen through gestures, and we saw early signs of this with Nokia Glance using proximity sensors. We also documented internal reports [of exploding Live Tiles dubbed MixView that had a striking resemblance to earlier UI designs in the Zune music software.
Unfortunately, the McLaren project was nixed in July 2014 a mere four months before its launch. The decision sealed the fate of Windows Phone as there would not be another flagship device from the Nokia/Microsoft portfolio until November 2015.
We’ll take a look at all of those rumors, but first, let’s break down the hardware.
The McLaren prototype in our possession is considered the final build and we have been told it was one of the few versions reserved for Microsoft employees during its development. Although we cannot show you the security markings, it does say ‘Microsoft Mobile’ across the device, which demonstrates how closely Nokia and Microsoft were working on this technology.
The overall design of the phone is very familiar, and it looks like a cross between the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 925. The body of the phone is a gray metal although the bottom is polycarbonate likely for the radio antennas. The feel in the hand is fantastic, and while it is not light, it is not too heavy, either.
The buttons on the side include volume up and down rockers, power, and a dedicated camera button. On the opposite side is a port door for a microSD card and nano SIM tray. The bottom features a micro-USB port, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is placed at the top. And due to the massive camera hump and being metal, there is no Qi wireless charging.
The phone features a 5.5-inch Full HD LCD, which is one of the first times we have seen that display size from Nokia.
For storage, the phone features 32GB of internal memory and supports microSD for expansion.
Regarding the processor, we can confirm the McLaren has a Snapdragon 800 CPU clocked at 2.3Ghz, along with 2GB of RAM.
Let’s talk about that massive camera hump: It’s immense and roughly the same size and design as the one found on the Lumia 1020. However, the camera is only in the 20MP range, and not 41MP or higher. Most of that hump is for the proprietary optical image stabilization, which was later improved and shrunk down for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL.
Nokia McLaren camera
Unfortunately, much of the camera software was never finalized for this prototype, so it only shoots at 8MP with no auxiliary options. However, I did confirm with people familiar with this project that the camera was supposed to be 20 megapixels. Zac Bowden was able to confirm this later when he had a chance to use the phone.
Despite the unfinished state of this prototype and our tape hiding sensitive information, the phone feels fantastic. The curved edges and metal body represent the flagship quality that Lumia fans expect. While much of the technology in McLaren was dated – even for 2014 – there is little doubt Microsoft should have borrowed from this design for the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, which are underwhelming, to say the least.
Let’s get to the good stuff: 3D Touch. It exists, it’s here, and it works. Everything we reported on back in 2014 was spot on. There are Live Tiles that ‘explode’, and you can interact with the phone merely by hovering your hand over it.
3D Touch works with various sensors in the display and even on the sides of the McLaren. As your finger approaches the screen all the Tiles begin to move in a wave-like fashion as visual feedback. Hovering above the Internet Explorer and Phone reveal the ‘exploding’ Live Tile MixView feature. The concept here was to give developers freedom to show more information on the Live Tile. Instead of just two sides, you could have up to eight smaller tiles. When you hover, the Tile explodes and moves to the center of the display where you can act on the smaller tiles. It is a little awkward, but it works.
Nokia McLaren ScreenShotsNokia McLaren ScreenShotsNokia McLaren ScreenShotsNokia McLaren ScreenShots
Under Settings, we can see the Hover + Gestures options. Using the phone’s 3D sensors users can enable:
Hover on Start screen
Keep the screen on when holding the phone
Lock the screen orientation when holding the phone
Silence the phone by gripping it when a call comes or by hovering your hand over the display
Answer incoming calls by waving your hand
Mute the speaker phone by hovering your hand over the lower half of the display
And it all works! I have to admit, many of these features, while not revolutionary, are an excellent evolution of the touch interaction model for modern smartphones. Things like keeping the display on while holding the phone were later replicated by Samsung and others using the front-facing camera, but the tech here is used for much more. Being able to lock the phone’s orientation while gripping the device is a much better solution than toggling the feature on or off.
To get a real idea of the technology here, you can see it in action using one of the 3D Touch testing apps. The display can track multiple fingers hovering over the screen, and you can even see it react to me gripping the phone. Needless to say, it is all very impressive looking technology, and it looks like something from the future, not two years ago.
Later, in 2016, Microsoft filed an application to patent Mix View with the USPTO.
So what went wrong in July 2014?
GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH
I have been researching this topic since we reported on the phone’s demise in July 2014. Back then, I cited Microsoft being unable to move beyond the proposal stage for interactive usages with the technology. Some developers under NDA were building apps with MixView, and there were some big plans. For instance, the camera would have no UI visible until your finger approached the display or being able to zoom in by sliding your finger on the edge of the phone.
In 2016, I am still hearing from people familiar with the project that users simply did not get the concepts of 3D Touch. This criticism counts for beta testers as well as developers. It may seem crazy, but perhaps this technology was just too new and too different for users. I can see the argument for the exploding Live Tiles, which is a very different interaction model. However, things like hovering or keeping the phone’s display on while holding the phone seem like extensions of user features, not a redefinition.
Nonetheless, McLaren suffered from many of the problems that other Lumias had at the time. The Snapdragon 800 was already a year old; the camera hump looks more impressive than it was, and besides 3D touch, the McLaren was just a small evolution. I also heard that the 3D Touch technology used was problematic. Indeed, I attest that this prototype is very buggy, and you would not want to use it for daily use. Is that because it was still in development or underlying problems? We may never know.
Nokia McLaren with 3D Touch
I will say that by canceling McLaren, Microsoft and Nokia sealed the fate of Windows Phone. When you write off a flagship, you don’t have a Plan B phone ready to go. That’s it. This reason may be why just a month later HTC – seemingly out of nowhere – announced the One M8 with Windows Phone 8.1. At the very least, McLaren would have done one thing: generate hype. Like the Lumia 1020, McLaren did something new and ground-breaking. I don’t think it would have saved Windows Phone 8.1 from declining sales, but it may have kept market share from nosediving. Without McLaren, Nokia had to rely on the Lumia 930, itself based on the 2013-era Lumia Icon, through November 2015. That is a lot of time in the desert.
At least we can now finally close the door on McLaren and what could have been. Then again, Microsoft Research is still actively working on 3D touch, so who knows. Maybe someday.