Samsung experimental program C-Lab has taken the opportunity presented by CES 2020 to unveil a new concept called SelfieType that's likely to be as strange in practice as in its name. Reportedly aimed at making smartphones more productive or, tentatively, making keyboards obsolete, the technology does exactly what its name implies. SelfieType acts as an AI camera-based concept solution that replaces a physical keyboard with a digital one.
As shown in the company's promotional concept video, that works via a smartphone's front-facing camera. In effect, the camera links in with the SelfieType AI to create a virtual representation of the user's hands. It aligns those alongside an internal model of a keyboard.
The user moves their fingers and hands as though they're typing on a physical keyboard — with no visual or haptic cues. The system takes the data and converts it to keyboard inputs via machine learning and vision.
Could this actually work for Samsung?
The obvious goal of Samsung's SelfieType is to make its devices easier to be productive on. That's been a driving force behind Samsung Galaxy Note series devices since the very beginning. So that would arguably be the most logical place the feature could appear.
With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and suspected upcoming Galaxy Fold 2, the focus on productivity now lies with two devices, so that's another phone that could eventually use SelfieType.
Similar solutions have already been tried though and not to great success. Typically, those have relied on lasers to create a visually-represented keyboard pad that users type on, appearing on whatever surface the device is placed on. But companies have also approached the problem of creating virtual keyboards from a more hardware-driven angle.
In some cases, full gloves or other wearables have been created for users to wear. There, companies have used AI tracking to monitor the finger and hand movement to similar ends as the Samsung SelfieType being presented at CES.
Both of those solutions have proven impractical. That's generally either been because of the accessories required or because they simply don't work as advertised. But that doesn't necessarily mean Samsung's solution won't work too.
To begin with, Samsung's camera technology portfolio now includes snappers equipped with adaptations of the same ToF technology used in self-driving cars. That's much more accurate and faster with regard to tracking specific motions, objects, and distances. AI has advanced as well. So the solution should be as straightforward as any AI-related project.
A CES demo of Samsung SelfieType doesn't equate to a guaranteed launch
Samsung C-Lab has showcased and plans to showcase quite a lot of technology in the future, typically around CES. That doesn't mean that all of its solutions ever maker their way into the real world. Even the existence of an officially shown concept video doesn't guarantee that.
The same holds true for SelfieType. Samsung's technology continues to improve in a direction that could eventually make the tool feasible. But CES is centered on futuristic ideas as much as products with solid launch dates. SelfieType almost undoubtedly falls into the former category as something that may be plausible later on but isn't likely to appear any time soon.