This week, word leaked out that Microsoft is purportedly working on a feature for the next Xbox that can automatically pause videos when it detects that your eyes are no longer on the screen. Just weeks ago, Samsung announced a similar feature for the Galaxy S4.
No. No, No, No, No.
No one in the world wants this.
Okay, fine. Some people want this. Advertisers are probably going nuts for it. The ability to make sure people are actually watching mid-show ads instead of wandering into the kitchen to heat up a Hot Pocket? That's like, yacht money, Broseph Gordon Levitt.
The day my Xbox pauses an ad because I'm not paying attention, however, is the day I shed a single tear, reminisce on all the good times shared with the ol' Chief, then throw my Xbox in the trash.
Beyond that use case, this seems like a brilliant idea by someone who has absolutely no idea how people watch TV.
Think about it. When you're watching TV, how much TV do you actually watch?
There are maybe three types of video that people actively give their full focus: new episodes of TV shows they love, movies that they've been dying to see, and porn.
The rest of the time and that's a huge, huge chunk of the time video watching becomes a rather passive experience. It's something just above background noise. It's an episode of Arrested Development you've seen a dozen times. It's something you give brief bouts of attention whenever you feel like looking up from your laptop, or your iPad.
"But Greg! It's almost certainly going to be an optional feature!"
Doesn't matter. Something being optional doesn't make it any less stupid. A bad optional feature still clutters up the UI. A bad optional feature still takes away developer hours from things that deserve the attention. A bad optional feature still gives the user a bad experience when they forget to turn it back off and it bugs out.
And you just know it's going to bug out.
Look I love, love, love my Xbox. I've run three of them into the ground. It gets more usage than pretty much any other device in my house (save my phone.) I show off the Kinect's crazy voodoo to just about everyone that stops by but I'm also the first to admit that the Kinect often just does whatever the hell it wants.
Once or twice a week, my Kinect mistakes something in a video's audio as a voice command (that or I've got a total wanker of a ghost who occasionally whispers 'Xbox, Stop!' into the mic.) Once or twice a day, my Kinect thinks that I've waved my hands to bring up the gestural interface when I'm actually laying perfectly still. A dozen times a day, the Kinect just sits back and laughs as I actually do shout voice commands at it.
Hands-on demos from the launch of Samsung's Galaxy S4 suggest that their Smart Pause feature is just as wonky.
For something like this to even maybe be useful, it needs to work perfectly. Zero inadvertently paused videos when you're paying attention, and zero skipped pauses when you aren't. That's not likely to happen.
None of this is to say that the concept of detecting focused eyes is totally useless. They could detect when I'm not looking and quietly place a marker that appears on the video's timeline, letting me know how far I need to rewind (or giving me some sort of quick jump mechanism) if I choose to do so. That would be rad.
Just don't touch my damned pause button.