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Eye tracking is the latest mobile buzzword, thanks to the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s the fanciest feature on this smartphone.
Eye tracking technology itself has been used for decades:
- Retail research scientists use consumer eye tracking to find out which store shelves customers’ eyes naturally go to. Then they tell store owners to put their most expensive merchandise on those shelves.
- Website developers use eye tracking studies to determine the best placement for ads and other visuals on a website.
- Eye tracking has also helped people stricken with paralysis communicate and get things done on their own.
Clearly, eye tracking does work in specialized settings like those – with the use of powerful computers and sophisticated eye tracking equipment.
But — does it really work on a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4? And does the eye tracking technology contribute to the user experience in a positive way?
I really wanted answers to these questions so here’s what I found out.
Eye Tracking On The Samsung Galaxy S4
The Galaxy S4 has a few user interface innovations.
Gesture control is one of them. For example, you can scroll a page simply by making a swiping gesture above the screen – without actually touching it. You can even scroll pages by tilting the phone up or down, among other things.
The eye tracking feature, though, has the experts a bit confused.
On the Samsung Galaxy S4, the eye tracking feature works through the phone’s front-facing camera.
In real eye tracking, cameras track the movement of a person’s eyeballs to precisely judge where he is looking at any given moment. This technology can be expensive to implement and it’s not what the S4 really features.
What this phone offers is a poor man’s version of eye tracking that is better described as head tracking.
Downsides To The Galaxy S4 Eye Tracking
The only way in which the Samsung Galaxy S4 does actual eye tracking is to sense if there are eyes in front of it.
Beyond that, it can’t actually tell where your eyes are looking. (Large eye movements seem to get sensed better than small eye movements.)
Two main functions that are said to be possible through the Galaxy S4’s eye tracking:
In either function, the phone only tracks how your head moves.
Here’s why the experts are still not sold on eye tracking technology on this phone:
- Depending on your head position, the eye tracking feature on the phone sometimes fails to work.
- User interface advancements are somewhat flawed.
- People usually abandon using an advancement if it doesn’t work reliably.
- It tends to pause videos when you look away for even a fraction of a second.
For these reasons, eye tracking on the S4 shouldn’t be considered an important way in which to control the phone. However, it could be an interesting party trick — much like Siri on the iPhone has been.
The Future Of Eye Tracking On Phones
It’s a promising direction for future mobile phones. If made accurate, eye tracking can be far more useful than voice control – since we move our eyes more effortlessly than we use our voice.
There has been much speculation about how the future version of Samsung’s eye tracking technology could help gamers control their games completely with the way they move their eyes.
Eye tracking won’t be a Samsung exclusive, though. A technology startup in Israel called Umoove has very strong eye tracking technology that it plans to sell to all smartphone makers. Here are some highlights of Umoove’s eye tracking abilities:
- Video: See uMoove’s Eye Tracking Technology In Action
- One-On-One Interview: How uMoove Works
- Umoove’s Eye Tracking Tech Coming To iPhones & Other Smartphones
Eye tracking technology will certainly have plenty of money poured into it. The technology has the potential to tell advertisers what part of the screen a viewer stares at the most.
Where there’s advertising money, technological advancements will likely follow — however, there could be privacy issues involved in tracking users’ eye movements.
I got my first computer in 1986 and immediately started writing, saving documents, and organizing my entire life on it. Thus began my love affair with gadgets and all things tech. I built my first website in 1998 in old-school HTML code — before websites were "a thing". Blogs weren't invented yet. It was the same year that Google was born. My husband and I created TheFunTimesGuide.com in 2004 — before YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and Mashable were launched. That was the year Facebook started and 'blog' was the Word of the Year according Merriam-Webster. Ever since then, anytime a new electronic gadget hits the market… I have to have it. (My husband's impulsive nature to try out every new tech gadget invented is even worse than mine!) When I'm not trying out fun new tech gadgets, you'll find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).