Jumping Through Hoops with Yandex

Yandex embarks on the most expensive solution to losing your remote control. . .ever.

Tech Crunch’s Natasha Lomas just wrote a very interesting piece on Russia’s Google-esque alter ego, Yandex, and their new Gesture Control initiatives.

To borrow from Ms. Lomas-

j2“Here’s how Yandex describes the app on its blog:”

“The application features videos, music, photos and news shared by the user’s friends on social networks in a silent ‘screen saver’ mode. As soon as the user notices something interesting on the TV screen, they can easily play, open or interact with the current media object using hand gestures. For example, they can swipe their hand horizontally to flip through featured content, push a “magnetic button” to play music or video, move hands apart to open a news story for reading and then swipe vertically to scroll through it.”

Given our current fascination with gesture tracking, this all seems very exciting on the surface.  I also love the actual look and feel of the on-screen User Interface that Yandex has been testing.  However, upon some closer examination, isn’t this a lot of work to solve a problem that really doesn’t exist?

Everything described in the paragraph above is more easily done with the Up, Down, Left, Right, Enter and Back buttons on the remote controls we use currently to control these devices.  From personal experience, owning an X-Box with Kinect, I gladly get up and find the game controller when navigating X-Box Live content, as the gesture control and voice interfaces are still very unreliable at times.  The only value I could see in this would be in the ability to control the system when the remote is absent, in which case, I guess digging through the sofa cushions would just take WAY too much energy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite place for gesture technology in the world, this just isn’t it.

I think there are strong indicators for when gesture control adds value.

1)      Sanitation Concerns – Sometimes environmental factors may dictate that gesture is used as an interface as opposed to using a physical device like a game controller, remote, or touch screen.

2)      Loss Prevention – In public environments where there is the potential to lose a control device, gesture may be a good fit.  In many cases though touchscreens would be more reliable and intuitive.

3)      Large Scale or Remote Access – In some cases, there are environments where a physical controller could be lost or damaged, and the potential media is displayed in an environment, location, or on a mega scale, touch is not a viable option, and gesture becomes the preferred method of interactivity.

4)      ADA Concerns – In many cases, users may not have the required dexterity and motor function to us a controller, and gesture tracking could be a huge assist in allowing those people equal access.  On the surface, even gesture may be too complicated for some, which is why I love some of the eye tracking cameras and software for device control as a solution to ADA concerns.

In any place where gesture is being considered, lighting concerns, user learning curves, and registration and interference problems are all things to think about seriously before deciding on a gesture based interface.  There are also limits to the number of simultaneous users that may come into play.  I think R&D is a good thing, and maybe Yandex’s research will open the doors to new possibilities in other arenas, I just don’t see this as a great fit for someone sitting in their living room.

Gesture tracking has a solid foundation in gamification, which is why Kinect has been such a success.  As a parent I love that my kids have to exercise to play games.  On that same note, I don’t want to be required to play games with my system to change the channel or stream music or a movie, when the tried and true controller is 2 feet away.

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