The typing experience on smartphones has gotten vastly better over the years, but typing with your thumbs will never be as fast as using a real keyboard. Samsung thinks it’s onto something with its latest Android feature, which it calls SelfieType. At CES, the company is demoing this AI-powered system that lets you type on an imaginary keyboard.
SelfieType comes from Samsung’s C-Lab program, a sort of internal incubator that develops quirky technologies that may eventually find their way into real products. Samsung’s decision to announce SelfieType suggests that it’s relatively confident in its capabilities. I say “relatively” because Samsung does have a history of rolling out products and features before they’re ready. The Galaxy Fold is just the latest example.
When you fire up SelfieType (assuming you ever get the opportunity), the phone activates the front-facing camera and begins watching your hands. SelfieType doesn’t rely on depth sensors or IR dot projectors to follow your fingers — it uses AI to map where each finger moves, allowing you to “mime” typing on a keyboard that doesn’t exist. As you tap the tabletop, the phone translates those presses to the on-screen keyboard. And like magic, you get the text on your screen.
The whole idea harkens back to the laser projector keyboard accessories that were all the rage about a decade ago. You can still buy one for about $30, but you shouldn’t. They’re slower and less accurate than any modern touchscreen keyboard. Plus, that’s another accessory to tote around. SelfieType at least has the advantage of being built into the device. In the video below, Samsung shows SelfieType working on several devices including a regular phone, a Galaxy Fold, and a tablet.
It’s possible SelfieType will work better than you’d expect — we’ve seen neural networks do some very impressive things That said, it seems like typing on an invisible keyboard would be difficult even with perfect AI mapping. You will likely have to keep your hands in place, tied to a virtual home row that you can’t see or feel. On a phone, you can see the keyboard as you type, and haptics can provide some semblance of tactility.
For now, SelfieType is just a demo. Samsung has made any promises about including it in future devices. Although, it could probably do so with a software update if it decides it’s ready for prime time.
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