Apple Hides Potentially Handy Head Gesture Controls Within iOS 7

By Tony Rizzo June 28, 2013

You have to love developers. If there is some hidden gem to uncover inside of an app or an API or within an operating system -- iOS 7 in this case -- they will, inevitably and without a doubt track it down. And, of course, they will want to share their discoveries. So it comes as hardly a surprise that a new hidden feature of iOS 7 has now come to light.

Keeping in mind that there is absolutely no reason to believe that Apple itself will be announcing any such thing -- either in the near future…or ever -- there is inside of iOS 7 (at least in the current developer version of it) a user-selectable capability that turns on the ability for an iPhone 5 to track basic head gestures -- from side to side or up or down -- and to assign different functions to the different head gestures. 


Image via Shutterstock

We should note that the feature -- or rather the capability (currently it is a "non-feature") -- isn't really hidden. It is available through the Settings/General/Accessibility menu. Apparently, by turning the feature on, it replaces the usual touch control features that are available. Our immediate thought on this is that we would hope there is a way to allow both to work, with the touch gestures always overriding the head gestures.

As one might expect, the capability to detect head movements is tied directly to the front-facing camera of either an iPhone or an iPad. At this point in time, the capability appears to be fairly rudimentary. When the capability is switched on, the device will follow a user's head movements, but the way it controls things is simply to cycle a user through every available option from any given screen.  Users are able to select any option by moving their heads left or right, depending on how the head movement gestures have been configured. Head movements/gestures can also be pre-assigned to provide certain functions such as returning to the home screen.

The apparent need to cycle through options strikes us as anything but optimized. In a sense, it reminds us of those awful menu-based feature phone user interfaces -- something we greatly prefer never to have to think about ever again. We also wonder how well the current iPhone and iPad front-facing cameras work here. Those cameras are hardly paragons of high-end camera sensor technology and we would imagine better resolution would be necessary to provide a level of usability suitable to Apple's UI standards.

Perhaps we should begin to speculate that Apple may be looking to deliver a much better front-facing camera. Considering that there will be no NFC support in the next version of the iPhone, why not take advantage of the cost savings and sneak in such a thing?

Are head gestures a useful thing? For those who have certain disabilities there is absolutely no question that they are. We ourselves typically have our iPhone sitting upright on a stand when we're at our desk. It would be great to be able to look at the iPhone and control it without having to reach for it, which we do far more often than we want to think about. As we noted above, such a feature would be nice to have, but we can't imagine it coming at the expense of replacing touch capabilities. We would want to be able to do both and have the touch gestures override head gestures. So much for back of the napkin sketches and speculation without actually having seen the thing in action!

It will be very interesting to see if Apple actually does anything with this capability when it gets around to releasing the next version of the iPhone and its iPads. It certainly has significant possibilities, however unrefined and primitive they are likely to seem at this point in time.

The new head gesture capability was first reported by 9to5 Mac (by way of an anonymous developer tip). They were able to test it and the company claims that the head tracking is in fact precise and accurate - which is good to hear. The following video, which actually demonstrates the way the new capability works, is courtesy of 9to5 Mac.




Edited by Rich Steeves

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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