Samsung's new smart TV doesn't mean the end of the remote control
In the future, kids won't only fight over the remote control. They will also battle over what to watch by shouting and gesticulating wildly at their television sets.
On Monday, Samsung announced it would unveil a new, more advanced version of its smart TV at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
The big improvements? Samsung says you'll be able to use "finger gestures" to change the channel, adjust the volume, pause your TV and more. Voice controls are also getting an upgrade. If you want to switch the channel to NBC, a single verbal command will get you there, instead of the previous model's two-step process.
Samsung isn't the only player in this game. Microsoft's Xbox One comes with a new model of the Kinect, which also lets users channel surf via voice and motion commands. (As our review noted, it works pretty well, but it does have its hiccups).
Nearly every major TV manufacturer — including Lenovo, LG and Panasonic — has released its own smart TV with similar technology.
So could the wireless remote control, first introduced way back in 1955 by Zenith, become extinct in the next decade?
Probably not. Voice control has its problems, especially with background noise, either from the TV itself or from other sources like unruly children. Even if perfected, it's not likely that everyone would completely abandon a physical remote in favor of speaking into a microphone.
Ben Shneiderman, founding director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, pointed to Apple's Siri as an example of widely available voice-recognition technology that works well, but hasn't stopped people from fiddling with their touchscreens.
"My impression, when I speak to audiences and look for a show of hands, is that many of them have tried Siri, but the regular users are only like one in 100," he told NBC News.
Speaking commands, Shneiderman, can actually exact a larger "cognitive load" on a user — meaning that their brain has to work harder. Pressing a button, in many instances, can be easier and quicker than saying, for example, "Change the channel to NBC."
Not to mention that pressing a button, whether plastic or on a touchscreen, is more reliable than having a computer record and interpret what you have to say.
Accidentally turning the volume up instead of down? Not a big deal. But accidently agreeing to download a pay-per-view movie? Those kind of errors would probably upset people, Alex Rudnicky, a computer science researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, told NBC News.
And while today's gesture control technology "works great," Rudnicky said, "when you make people do gestures over and over again, people eventually get physically tired."
In the years to come, the remote control will probably stick around — although it might not look like the clicker you grew up with.
"The remote will start looking like something closer to an iPhone," said Shneiderman, noting that as everything from your laptop to your TV to smart appliances become more connected, it makes sense that people would want a variety of ways to interact with them.
A TV isn't just a TV anymore; it's a hub for a wide variety of content and apps that will require more than just touch or voice or gesture controls to navigate.
"In a sense, it reflects the way humans communicate with each other," Rudnicky said. "We talk, we gesture, we make facial expressions. All of that stuff conveys information. There is really no reason that an automatic system shouldn't avail itself of all of those same channels."