When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007, its most spell-bounding feature—the one that set it apart from BlackBerry and Nokia, and the one that would forever change the way we interacted with our devices—was the touchscreen. All it took was a light press of the fingertip and an icon on the screen would spring open as if tapped with a magic wand.
Touchscreen technology has since become inseparable from nearly every smart interaction. Today we have interactive screens on our laptops, televisions, watches, and refrigerators; children, who got so immersed in the touchscreen world, have been known to press on inanimate objects expecting them to respond. The touchscreen has become ubiquitous, the touchscreen has become blasé.
So, Google, in building its next smartphone, wants to introduce the next huge thing: a way to control our screens like an orchestra conductor brandishing an invisible baton.
When Google’s next flagship smartphone, the Pixel 4, arrives this year, it will respond to a series of gesture interactions—a pinch of the fingers, or a wave of the hand—without the user ever needing to touch the screen. Taken together, Google calls these controls “Motion Sense.” A teaser video shows a woman unlocking her new Pixel with the blink of her eye, then waving her hand to a cycle through a series of songs playing on her phone. The video is only a few seconds long, but it calls to mind the way Jobs described the original iPhone: “It works like magic.”
When the Pixel 4 gets launched, it will only have a few gesture controls like snoozing alarms, skipping songs, silencing phone calls. But by the time Pixel owners get used to pinching their fingers together and rotating their thumb on invisible dials, a seismic shift will already be underway. Gesture technology will further turn our devices into extensions of ourselves; we move our fingers, and the feedback displays on a screen. That type of interaction won’t end with phones. One day, we might control every screen with a flick of the wrist.
Google’s gesture technology is merely a glimpse of a touchless future. Just like the iPhone taught millions of people to interact with their world by tapping and swiping, the Pixel may train us on a new kind of interaction, changing how we expect to interact with all of our devices going forward.