Samsung Galaxy S4 Paves Way for Eye-Tracking Tech


The Samsung Galaxy S4 sold more than 10 million units in its first month, and is already the fastest selling Android phone of all time. This mass appeal was surely aided by the plethora of new technology that Samsung embedded into its latest flagship model.

One example is the eye-tracking feature built into the S4, which utilizes the front-facing camera to follow a user’s eye movements. For example, the “Smart Pause” feature pauses a video if you look away, and resumes it when you look back. “Smart Scroll” can scroll up and down on websites and email based on where your eyes are trained on the screen. The S4 is also equipped with “Smart Stay,” which keeps the phone’s display from dimming or going to sleep as long as you are looking at it, as well as “Smart Rotate,” which keeps the display in landscape mode if you lay down on your side.

Many critics have panned the eye-tracking features as gimmicks, and the Internet seems divided over their practicality and accuracy. Currently, these features are only supported in Samsung apps, so they won’t work with Gmail, YouTube, or Chrome – mainstays on any Android device.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Apple has held eye-tracking interface patents since at least 2007, but it seems that Samsung has beaten it to the chase with the S4. Many in the tech world expect Apple’s iPhone 5S to use some form of eye-tracking capability, which would have Cupertino following rather than being followed for the first time.

Gimmick or not, many companies are interested in the future of eye-tracking technology. Swedish company Tobii will release 5,000 of its REX “Gaze Interaction” devices to consumers this fall. The REX is a peripheral device that will connect to a desktop PC via USB and allow users to scroll and navigate applications in a similar vein as the S4, as well as potentially offer video games that can be controlled by the player’s eyes.

In the UK, THiNK Eye Tracking gathers information from consumers who view certain products while wearing a head-mounted eye tracker (similar to a pair of glasses). The company then relays the results of its research to clients who use the information to promote eye-catching products and eliminate those that are easily glanced over.

Automakers are also interested. Significant strides in safety could be made with this leap in optical tech, for instance by alerting drivers about objects outside their field of vision or sounding an alarm if their eyes close for too long. General Motors and Toyota are already investing in these applications.

And that’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief