It is impossible to talk about MWC 2019 without discussing 5G and foldable phones. Almost all manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, and some like Huawei with the Mate X, offer both in the same package. However, neither 5G nor foldables grabbed my attention as much as innovations introduced by LG.
Sometimes, we tech journalists go on lengthy rants about unimaginative smartphones and gadgets, yet dismiss creative new features as gimmicks. History seems to be repeating itself with LG at MWC 2019. The Korean manufacturer introduced two flagships at the Barcelona fair - the LG G8 and the V50 ThinQ. While the latter is the 5G-ready phone we expected, the former offers some intriguing surprises.
First, I have to admit that both the LG G8 and the V50 ThinQ have rather predictable, and some might even say outdated, designs with big notches and fingerprint sensors on the back. But let's not judge a book just by its cover! The G8 has incorporated ToF (time of flight) sensors in the notch, which give it two features that make it stand out from the crowd. The first is a new biometric unlock method. It scans and recognizes the vein patterns in your hand, and LG claims it's more secure than a fingerprint scanner.
The second, and the one that really grabbed my attention, is AIR motion. It allows you to use hand waving gestures for basic controls - without having to touch the phone. You can dismiss calls with a hand wave, control media playback or volume, and even take a screenshot. However, so far the reception of the new tech has not been exactly positive. Our own Jessica Murgia found AIR motion hard to get used to, and others also have also claimed that the response time is not stellar.
However, I'm here to argue that while the execution might need work, the concept itself deserves recognition. AIR motion might seem like a gimmick now, because the technology is still in its infancy, but we could have easily said the same about touchscreens 10-15 years ago. After all, buttons worked just fine and performed all necessary functions. Yet, touchscreens made interacting with your device feel more natural, more instinctual. Nowadays they have become so ingrained into every aspect of our lives, and especially the lives of that younger generation, that we regularly see videos of kids futilely tapping on the screens of old Nintendo handhelds.
However, AIR motion, in my opinion, can take 'instinctual interaction' (to borrow Microsoft's term) a step further. Waving your hand to dismiss a call or moving it back and forth to control video playback can be more seamless and natural than swiping your finger across a screen. And, come on, it looks like you are using the force to control your smartphone! I may be a huge nerd for thinking this, but to me that looks cool. I know others don't share my opinion and find awkward or silly, but I still think it's less embarrassing than speaking to Bixby in public, for example.
Of course, there's a point to be made that the future of touchless control lies precisely in voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby and co. Millions of new devices with integrated assistant buttons are expected to flood the market in 2019, including the new S10 line. However, while smart assistants can be quite useful, I never find myself using them much. Talking to my phone doesn't feel natural, especially not in public. Besides, I can look up information or set up alarms or reminders just as quickly myself.
I also don't think that voice commands will ever fully replace touch controls, while something like AIR motion can. Just imagine more than ten people in an office all trying to talk to their phones at the same time. The result would be total cacophony. Finally, there are a lot of privacy concerns with always-listening devices and they are quite reasonable considering the ever-growing number of data leak scandals and smart speaker bugs.
Nevertheless, we've already seen something similar to AIR motion in the form of Air View on the Galaxy S4 - it allowed you browse photos with hand waves or scroll pages with eye movement. Yet, Samsung discontinued the feature rather quickly, dropping it after the Galaxy S5. The decision was probably motivated by the fact that at the time Air View didn't really perform very well. But it might have just been too early for such a feature.
Admittedly, LG's current AIR motion is far from perfect too, but I think it can go far if the company continues perfecting it. Even if the feature doesn't succeed, we should recognize creativity and innovation efforts when we see them. While almost all other manufacturers are following the same popular trends, LG is trying something different. That's worth acknowledging.
What do you think about touchless gesture controls? Are they a gimmick or do they have the potential to be the next big thing? Share your thoughts in the comments.