April 21, 2010

Idea: eBooks that watch you read

Every device is an eReader these days. Some are dedicated e-ink devices, and some are multipurpose gadgets that have (or will soon have) front-facing cameras. Presumably those cameras are intended for video chat. But as long as the cameras are there, I think eReader software should take advantage of those cameras, too.

Using existing face detection technology, here are some things your eReader could do:

Gather analytics data: Movie studios do test screenings where they gauge how much audiences laugh or cry, and at what point in the movie. Books can’t do that. But what if the book were watching you? It could anonymously (with your consent) send data back to the publisher about where you were in the book when you smiled. This could be good feedback for the author, who would learn which jokes were hits and which were misses.

Dynamically change text size: Instead of setting your preferred font size, you can set your preferred apparent font size. As you move your head closer and further away from the page, the font adjusts accordingly. (Although I can’t come up with a real reason why I would use this feature).

Automatic page scrolling: With eye-tracking, the device could see when you’re reaching the bottom of the page, and scroll accordingly.

Advertising fodder: Imagine an ad for Stephen King’s new book: it’s a photo grid of real people’s faces while they’re engrossed in the pivotal and terrifying chapter where something really gruesome happens. Perhaps the eBook takes the photo without telling you, and it’s saved locally on your device. At the end of the book you get the opportunity to submit it, and you get some cash and a free copy of his next book if they use your photo to advertise this one.

Special edition of 1984: Every time you get to a page with the phrase “Big Brother,” the camera takes a photo of you and posts it on-line.

UPDATE: Well, it didn’t take long for someone to point out in the comments that Wired has already covered this territory. Hrm. I guess I’ll do some more research before I post my other related idea: eye-tracking high dynamic range photos that adjust the exposure according to the part of the image you’re looking at.

Previously: Idea: Fun With Facial Recognition


I like the dynamic text size feature. I don’t think it’s something I would consciously use but it’d be a nice little extra.

I can see it being useful when you change sitting positions. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to hold whatever you’re reading at a certain distance, if you change the way your body is positioned that comfortable distance may not be the same. Yes you could do it manually but having the reader do it for you would be better.

I want my XBox to do eye-tracking so that when I’m playing FIFA it knows which player I want to pass to because I’m looking at them.

Nice ideas :) I wouldn’t worry about wired - even if it can be frustrating when other people have gone public with the ‘your’ idea (or a very similar one), your idea isn’t less interesting. In the 90s I had the idea for a braille display for computers only to find that it had already been invented (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refreshable_Braille_display)

I see one problem with the dynamic text size: Line breaks. When the reader adjusts the text size according to the distance between your eyes and the screen, the number of characters one line of text could display would be changing all the time. This would lead to frequent changes of the page layout, and this would probably make it difficult not to lose the place you were reading. Depending on how fast, or after which change of reading distance the display would adapt the font size, you could find yourself spending too much time finding the right place in the text again…

I want an email client that watches the reader’s eyes to see what part of the message the reader is reading, and measures the smile on her face. Then it replies to the sender with the original message highlighted so you can see how well your jokes did.

Related: A textarea element that tracks the writing experience