Smartphones have evolved in function and in form over the past couple years. They are perpetually becoming more powerful, faster and more useful. One of the more recent additions in the past two years has been the mass deployment of front-facing cameras. Cell phone companies in other countries offered phones with "video conferencing" capabilities years ago, but only here recently has the "need" for a front-facing camera become mainstream. Every top of the line smartphone has one, and though they're not quite as nice as the cameras 'round back, they're useful for a handful of reasons.
The main reason for a manufacturer to include a camera on the face of the devices, obviously, is for video calling. But video calling is only so useful. It does make talking via mobile phone a little more personal than just a basic voice call or text message. Being able to see someone's facial expressions and put a face to a voice is nice, at times. But it's usually neither quick, reliable or convenient for both parties. And it also requires both users to be using the same services (FaceTime, Skype, Google Talk, etc.). In short, it is a leisurely way to call someone – a novelty.
Almost every phone I have owned in the past year and a half has come with a front-facing camera, and to be honest, I don't even like buying a phone without one. But in over a year and a half, I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually used a front-facing camera.
But why do I bother with front-facing cameras if I never really use them? Because I see potential for growth. And slowly, other people are beginning to see that potential, too. Developers are beginning to implement the front-facing camera in various alternative ways.
Of all of the different uses for a front-facing camera, like a mirror or an easy way to take pictures of yourself, there are two particular uses that have really caught my eye. Unsurprisingly, both of them deal with security and keeping your personal data safe.
First and most notable, Google plans to roll out their latest software update later this month with the launch of the Galaxy Nexus. One unique feature of Android 4.0 is the addition of Face Unlock. The user can set a lock screen on their device that can only be unlocked after scanning your face with some facial recognition software. Although rather gimmicky, it is novel and makes use of a part of the phone that is otherwise ... unused.
The second unorthodox use for a front-facing shooter comes in the form of a security app. GotYa! keeps out prying eyes and can help users track down their phone if it is ever lost. That said, there are hundreds of apps like this. So what's the catch? After a few wrong attempts at the password, GotYa! will automatically and discretely snap a picture of the perpetrator and send a Google Maps link (either by email or Facebook) of the device's current location, along with the timestamped picture of whoever was trying to unlock the phone, to the owner. Not only would this help in the event of losing your device, but it would also let you know who was trying to access your phone at that party last weekend or if your significant other was snooping around while you weren't looking. (For those interested, GotYa! is currently in the Android Market with a free, lite version and a premium version for $2.)
Now, neither of these uses are flawless. Face Unlock appeared to have some difficulty recognizing Matias Duarte's face at the Samsung/Google event in Hong Kong last month. And GotYa! could easily fail at snapping a photo of a perp if the phone isn't held at the right angle or if the camera is inadvertently covered by a thumb. Nonetheless, it's always good to see developers, especially Google themselves, thinking outside the box and taking existing technology to the next level.
What do you think, readers? Are things like Face Unlock or GotYa! what you imagined would become of front-facing cameras on smartphones? Do you plan on trying GotYa! or are you looking forward to Face Unlock? What other uses could we see for FFCs in the future?
Image via Engadget