/ Technology

Do we actually need motion-controlled tech?

Magic wand remote control

Motion controls are ok when used appropriately, but when complex gestures are harder than a button press, are we taking a step backwards? In our first video we take a look at the future of motion-controlled tech.

The Nintendo Wii was a huge shot in the arm for motion control, with gesture controls now popping up everywhere.

Of course, I can see great benefits in the tech. In public toilets contactless dryers are hygienic – if a little frustrating at times.

HTC handsets switch to silent mode when flipped over – great when all eyes are on you in a busy meeting. And at CES 2011, I used the Casio Tryx camcorder, which takes a picture when you wave at it – a handy feature for taking self portraits.

Motion controls done badly

But it seems that gesture control is also being used where it’s not necessary. Take the recently announced LG Optimus Black mobile phone – it’ll switch to camera mode when you hold down a button and shake it. But is unlocking the phone and pressing a button really that tricky?

And then there are a number of other applications on Android mobiles and iPhones, such as the ‘shake to delete your tweet’ Twitter app, HootSuite. It’s one of those apps that you’ll download but never use, as it doesn’t make your life any easier.

Take a closer look at the future of motion-controlled tech in our first Which? Convo video.

What’s more, when gesture control’s done badly it can be simply infuriating. This Christmas I caved to my colleagues’ peer pressure and took a look at the Magic Wand TV remote control. The one that was much-hyped after its appearance on Dragons’ Den.

The wand can be programmed to change channels with swishes and other elaborate gestures. But I defy anyone to say it’s better than a standard remote.

Internet TVs could benefit

With the advent of slightly more complex internet-enabled TVs, remote controls will need to change. Panasonic showed off a prototype TV at CES that used whole arm movements to select options. Again, in these instances a button press would still be easier.

However, LG seemed to be on the right track. The company’s magic pointer remote control looked like an easy way to select on screen options, and works much like a familiar mouse cursor on a TV screen.

There was another TV trend at CES – using a small-screened device (like your mobile) to play games on a big screen. Although both LG and Sony Ericsson showed this in action, I wasn’t really convinced that it was any better than a traditional gaming controller. Unlike with a touchscreen phone, at least I can feel where the buttons are under my thumbs.

The gesture control legacy of gaming

Of course, gaming’s continuing to experiment in the world of motion controls, with Sony launching PlayStation Move and Microsoft bringing Kinect to the Xbox 360. Perhaps the latter shows a glimpse of the future – just like Kinect does away with the physical controller, maybe we’ll interact with our products without the need for buttons at all.

Still, in a world where we seem to be looking for ways to reduce physical activity, perhaps voice or even mind control is where we’ll eventually end up?

Sophie Gilbert says:
25 January 2011

I would ask if this ultimately will serve a purpose for the greater good (eg help disabled people or give us better hygiene, or even just to make our lives slightly easier), or if this is purely to sell, sell, sell more stuff to gullible impressionable people.

If the former, great. You don’t always know right away just how useful an initially apparently useless application/scientific discovery is going to be.

If the latter, I just wish some creative people thought more of humanity/the planet than money.

Simple mechanical controls are often a lot simpler and often more accurate

Nick Emmerson says:
25 January 2011

I feel the motion controls which are currently available, may not be any better than the conventional devices they are trying to replace, but this is early days, I am using a touch screen computer to type this message, although I can use the traditional keyboard and mouse when I wish.
So although current motion controls are fairly naff, I think something better will emerge in the fullness of time.

Carl says:
25 January 2011

I am a very new convert to the whole motion sensor thing. I bought the Kinect for the Xbox 360. I am very happy with the results. Overall the results are very impressive. Even my wife who is a bit of a gameaphobe asks me most nights “can we go bowling on the Kinect?”. There are occasions when it doesn’t do exactly what you want, but that’s only maybe once or twice in one evenings session. It is certainly something you can’t fall asleep playing which I have done before playing some games. The games do involve a LOT of action, especially when playing the athletics. The hurdles are especially energetic. I really can’t wait until the car racing simulator that is due to be released this year. It has made me, a seasoned gamer, sit up (should that be stand up) and become re-engaged with something really different.

Ben, I was hoping to see footage of you in this video using the magic wand remote control in some sort of Harry Potter costume! I feel let down.
I’m also very sad that the remote doesn’t seem to work too well… Must admit I was (childishly?) blinded by the Hogwarts-esque novelty…

Leen Petre says:
4 March 2011

When it works though a visual feedback system like a pointer on a screen, motion control has the big disadvantage that it takes away any tactile clues on “where you are in navigating your device” for people who can not see very well. On computers, this is remedied by zoom functionality or alternative keystroke controls for those people who can not make use of mouse movements. I wonder whether there is any sign of manufacturers considering this limitation, particularly as 22 per cent of people aged over 75 and 53 per cent of people aged over 90 will experience sight loss, (statistic from RNIB, Royal National Institute for Blind People).