Are you tired of having to use boring touch controls to interact with your phone? After all, that’s the way things have been done on almost every smartphone for the last decade and a half. While some phones have dabbled in different gesture-based controls in the past, none has really caught on. Maybe Google will change that, as the company is now letting you control your phone with just your facial expressions.
How can you control a phone with just your face?
Android is implementing this option as part of the accessibility feature, Switch Access. Switch Access adds a blue selection window to your display, and lets you use external switches, a keyboard, or the buttons on your Android to move that selection window through the many different items on your screen until you land on the one you want to select.
The big update to Switch Access is to make facial gestures the triggers that move the selection window across your screen. This new feature is part of Android Accessibility Suite’s 12.0.0 beta, which arrives packed into the latest Android 12 beta (beta 4, to be exact). If you aren’t running the beta on your Android device, you won’t be able to take advantage of this cool new feature until Google seeds Android 12 to the general public.
If you want to try it out right now, however, you can simply enroll your device in the Android 12 beta program, then download and install the work-in-progress software to your phone. Follow along on our walkthrough here to set yourself up.
How to set up facial gestures on Android 12
To get started on a device running Android 12 beta 4, head over to Settings > Accessibility > Switch Access, then tap the toggle next to Use Switch Access. You’ll need to grant the feature full control over your device, which involves viewing and controlling the screen, as well as viewing and performing actions. Tap Allow to confirm.
The first time you do this, Android will automatically open the Switch Access setup guide. Here, tap Camera Switch, then tap Next. On the following page, choose between one switch or two switches, the latter of which Android recommends. With one switch, you use the same gesture to begin highlighting items on screen that you do to select a particular item. With two switches, you set one gesture to start highlighting, and a separate one to select.
We’re going to demonstrate the instructions for choosing Two switches. On the following page, choose how you’d like Android to scan through a particular page of options:
- Linear scanning (except keyboard): Move between items one at a time. If you’re using a keyboard, however, it will scan by row.
- Row-column scanning: Scan one row at a time. After the row is selected, move through items in that list.
- Group selection (advanced): All items will be assigned a colour. You perform a face gesture corresponding to the colour of the item you want to select. Narrow down the size of the group until you reach your choice.
We’ll choose Linear scanning for this walkthrough. Once you make your selection, choose Next, then choose a gesture to assign to the action Next (which is what tells the blue selection window to move through the screen). You can choose from Open Mouth, Smile, Raise Eyebrows, Look Left, Look Right, and Look Up, and can assign as many of these gestures as you want to the one action. Just know that when you assign a gesture to an action, you won’t be able to use it with another action. When finished, tap Next.
Now, choose a gesture for the action Select (which selects an items that the blue selection window is hovering over). You can choose from the same list as before, barring any gestures you assigned to Next. Once you make your choice, you can actually start using these gestures to continue, since you can use your first gesture to move through the options, and your second gesture to select.
Finally, choose a gesture to pause or unpause camera switches. You don’t need to use this feature, but Android recommends you do. Pick your gesture or gestures, then choose Next. Once you do, the setup is done and you can now use your facial gestures to move around Android.
Other face gesture settings and options
Once you finish your setup, you’ll find some additional settings you can go through. Under Face Gesture Settings, you’ll find all the gesture options, as well as their assigned actions. Tap on one to test it out, adjust the gesture size, set the gesture duration, and edit the assignment for the gesture.
Beneath Additional settings for Camera Switches, you’ll find four more options to choose from:
- Enhanced visual feedback: Show a visual indication of how long you have held a gesture.
- Enhanced audio feedback: Play a sound when something on the screen changes in response to a gesture.
- Keep screen on: Keep the screen on when Camera Switches in enabled. Camera Switches cannot unlock the screen if it turns off.
- Ignore repeated Camera Switch triggers: You can choose a duration of time where the system will interpret multiple Camera Switch triggers as one trigger.
How to turn off facial gestures (Camera Switches)
If you find that controlling your phone with facial gestures just isn’t for you, don’t worry; it’s easy to turn off the feature. Just head back to Settings > Accessibility > Switch Access, then choose Settings. Tap Camera Switch gestures, then tap the slider next to Use Camera Switches. That will disable the whole feature, while saving your setup. If you want to reenable the feature, just return to this page at any time, and tap the toggle again.