Remember how easy it used to be to answer the phone? Okay, some of you don’t, so here’s a refresher: The phone rang. You picked it up. You spoke into it. Oh magic of yesteryear!
Today, a few Windows Phone users get some of that magic back, because a beta app called Gestures will imbue select Nokia smartphones (and all Windows 10 phones next year) with controls that let you use natural gestures instead of tapping or sliding.
To answer a ringing smartphone, you can simply fish it out of your pocket and hold it to your ear. To silence a ringer, you look at the screen, then lower it dismissively. To place a call on speakerphone, you place the phone onto a table. And to mute a call, you place the phone face down. It’s a set of controls that, for the most part, piggyback on the ways we’re already handing our phones. Plus, each has the distinction of being easier to perform than hunting and pecking for the right button on the screen.
From what we can tell, software is juggling the phone’s built-in accelerometers and light sensors to accomplish these stunts, similarly to the way your iPhone already knows to turn off its touchscreen when your phone is held to your ear. Of course, these controls are imperfect as they rely on your phone making educated guesswork out of your intentions, which is why all smartphone users have accidentally dialed with their ear at some point in their lives. The software guessed wrong.
So while Gestures appears to be a remarkable bit of user interface design, we must temper our excitement until all those beta testers confirm its accuracy. Because if your phone fails to mute when placed face-down just once–and someone on the other end listens in on a conversation he or she was never meant to hear–that’s a dealbreaker. Naturalistic interfaces are only as wonderful as they are reliable.