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Why in-air gestures failed, and why they'll soon win

Mike Elgan | Sept. 2, 2014
In-the-air gesture technology was a solution in search of a problem. It recently found one. And soon it will find another.

Of course, those apps are gimmicks. But the impulse to make communication faster and easier will ultimately require in-the-air gesture technology to turn hand gestures and body language into conveyable messages. For example, imagine if a smiley face icon were placed into your messages when you smiled, LOL added when you really did laugh out loud. Or if a shrug, a wave of the hand, a thumbs-down, a forehead slap, chin scratching and other gestures triggered auto-typing of the words you were conveying with body language.

Also: People are shy. That's why video chat never really took off. More people might be interested in video chat if, instead of actual video of themselves, the systems used stand-in avatars — especially ones that instantly and automatically conveyed their facial expressions, body language and hand gestures in real time as they chatted to others online.

Looking at the state of research in this area (which has been developing for two decades), it's likely that head and face-only avatars will be the first broadly used by consumers, but eventually whole-body avatars will take over, and these will take full advantage of in-the-air gesture technology — the future versions of products like Kinect and Leap Motion.

So don't count out in-the-air gesture technology yet. It has failed as a user interface because it's been applied to the unnatural act of controlling on-screen action. Once it's applied to virtual reality and communication, it will become a totally mainstream technology that just about everyone will use.

 

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