Are touchless displays the next big thing, or a gimmick?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| March 20, 2014


Gimmick is a fun word, isn’t it? It’s a popular one in this industry, that’s for sure. Whether something is “gimmicky” or not generally boils down to personal opinion, or whether you think it would actually be useful to you or not. Like that phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You could probably apply the same concept to smartphones: “One man’s gimmick is another man’s favorite feature.” When I heard about Microsoft’s plans to make next-gen devices use “non-touch” screens, for some reason “gimmick” was the first word that came to my head.


But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the technology could be useful. That is, if it’s honed enough by the time it’s released so that it actually functions well. But Microsoft seems to be putting a big emphasis on making their devices more accessible to everybody, and I can see where touchless displays could become the next big thing - for people who need it and for people who don’t alike.


It didn’t take long for me to think of the touching commercials that Microsoft has released for a variety of their products. Many of you have probably seen them, whether it was Sarah Churman being able to hear properly for the first time, allowing her to hear her daughter’s real voice; or maybe you’ve seen the one about former NFL star Steve Gleason, who is currently battling ALS, but uses Surface as a means of communication through eye-tracking technology (tip: have tissues handy if you're just watching them for the first time). I wish Microsoft would have put more emphasis on this approach rather than their "Scroogled" campaign, which might be funny to some, but is seriously lacking a powerful message in comparison to their campaign that shows exactly how much good their products can do for people.


Not only would touchless displays help those who can’t normally use smartphones as they are, whether through eye-tracking or other means (there were talks of Bluetooth bracelets that censored hand movements so you could keep your hand in a resting position but still control phone navigation), but I think it’s something that others could get on board with too - especially if it’s eye-tracking. Samsung has already dabbled in eye-tracking with Smart Pause, Smart Scrolling and other Smart features, but I think what people are really waiting for is when you can control your whole phone with just your eyes. Smart features here and there are cool, but a whole phone? That would be remarkable.


I may not be the biggest fan of Windows Phone as a platform, but Microsoft’s strides to make technology help people instead of just entertaining us is really a very relatable message. And maybe we won’t need these accessible features now, but maybe somewhere down the line we might.


Technology is a very powerful tool, and sometimes we get caught up in complaining about the little things like design, color of the phone, or a phone's name. I’m a prime example, just look here, here, or here. Take your pick, they’re there. But for some reason, the article discussing how Microsoft is working on “non-touch” displays did the reverse on me, and really touched my heart. It made me think of all of the times that I’ve wondered if technology was hurting our relationships, or crippling our ability to even speak with one another; then I realized that there’s an entirely different side of the coin, and that technology like this should make us feel proud to be making such strides, especially for people who have been waiting for something like this to become so mainstream that they can just go to the store and pick one up.


So to answer the question in my title, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt I personally couldn’t call “non-touch” touchscreens a gimmick. It would be a huge step taken in the right direction. Whether Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Huawei or Apple is the one doing it, this is one feature that I personally cannot wait to see come to smartphones.


What are your thoughts, readers? Do you think touchless displays will be something you or somebody you know would be interested in? Let us know your thoughts about touchless displays in the comments below!


Images via Geekwire, NOLA