At the dawn of the modern smartphone era a decade ago, OEMs tried crazy things to see what worked. There were phones with keyboards, phones with fold-out screens, and phones with kickstands. Today, smartphones are much less varied, but we could be due for an evolution. LG apparently thinks it’s time for gestures. It’s teasing a Mobile World Congress unveiling for a device with touchless gesture control.
The teaser video doesn’t include much in the way of details. It promises we can say “goodbye” to touch, but that might be overselling it. It’s a foregone conclusion that this phone (likely the LG G8) will include a touchscreen. You’re not saying goodbye to touch, but maybe you’ll be able to use the gesture feature instead of touch on occasion. LG has been losing money on smartphones for several years, so it’s anxious for a win. Gestures might not be enough to turn things around, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the G8.
It looks from the video like you’ll at least be able to scroll through web pages or documents on your phone by waving a hand. That implies the phone will be able to watch for and identify hand movements — there may be a dedicated 3D sensor (that would also be handy for face unlock) or the phone could just use the front-facing camera to detect gestures with the aid of some machine learning algorithms.
LG isn’t the first to look at gesture control for smartphones. Samsung deployed a similar feature on the Galaxy S4 called Air Gestures. This feature utilized the phone’s proximity sensor to detect swipes, allowing you to move icons and scroll around in the browser. However, the feature was extremely buggy and it only worked in certain apps. Samsung dropped it in subsequent phones.
Meanwhile, Google has demoed the much more advanced Project Soli in 2015. Soli used a small radio chip to track hand movements in the space around it. Google showed Soli simulating buttons, sliders, and knobs with hand gestures. Google hasn’t mentioned Soli since then, but a recent regulatory waiver suggests it’s still working on Soli internally.
The feature LG shows off at MWC will most likely fall somewhere between those two. It will hopefully offer more functionality than Samsung offered back in 2013 but nothing like the magical Project Soli demo. We’ll know for sure when LG unveils its latest smartphone on February 24th.
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