The Android 12 beta just launched a new feature you probably never thought about using: the ability to control what your phone with facial expressions. Weird, right? But don’t dismiss it if you think sounds odd.
The latest version of the beta allows you to map a range of facial 'gestures' to certain functions — similar to what you could already do with touch gestures. The best part? It even works on older Android phones.
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This new feature is part of beta version 12.0.0 of the Android Accessibility Suite — which is included as part of Android 12 beta 4. The feature itself is called Camera Switches, and utilizes your phone's front camera to recognize your facial expressions.
So there's no need for any fancy extra hardware, like the infrared camera and dot projector that power the Pixel 4’s Face Unlock.
Facial 'gestures' performed with Camera switches can open notifications, scroll forwards and backwards, navigate to the home screen, select something on-screen and more. All of these options match the fact that Camera Switches is an accessibility tool in Android.
How Android 12's facial 'gestures' work
However you can’t just make up a facial expression of your own and map that to, say, your camera app. Instead Android has a number of pre-set facial gestures you can activate and customize. Just like it’s been doing with touch gestures for years.
The facial gestures include opening your mouth, smiling, raising your eyebrows and looking in different directions. Just note that your face needs to go back to normal before Android 12 recognizes the action. You can also customize the size and duration of your gesture, if need be.
However you should know that using Camera Switches means you end up with a constant notification telling you that the phone’s camera is in use.
That said it might also be useful for able-bodied people in situations where they can’t be messing with their phone. Like when they’re driving, and need to navigate their phone screen in a way that voice controls won’t allow.
The best part about Camera Switches is that it’s not exclusive to the Android 12 beta. XDA Developers was able to load an APK of the updated accessibility suit on Android 11 as well, which activated the feature on the older software. So all the folks who may not have the Android beta but are comfortable with the risks and complexity of installing an APK yourself can try Camera Switches. That said, it's not for certain if Google's Android team plans on officially releasing this tool for previous versions of Android.