A Wild UI Experiment With The iPhone X’s Front-Facing Camera

Entertainment By Elena Boaghi |

The notch. Everyone hates it. And what did we get for it? A rooster that sings karaoke. No thanks. But that notch could be more than a camera for silly selfies. It’s a powerful depth sensor, after all. It’s a face-tracking Kinect shrunk down and embedded in your phone.  It must be good for something more.

Perhaps we have our first taste of what that something is. Media artist Peder Norrby has developed code to give his iPhone X its own trompe-l’oeil effect. Trompe-l’oeil is an age-old trick used by painters to create the illusion of 3D depth on a 2D plane. And on the iPhone X, it’s downright mesmerizing. The touchscreen itself seems to melt away as the phone transforms into a portal to an infinite abyss. Angle the phone, or your own head, and you can even peek inside, as if you’re looking through a peephole into another room, or inspecting a can of Pringles for the last few crumbs.

Featured on Prosthetic Knowledge, the effect is a direct result of the iPhone X’s front-facing camera being able to sense its own orientation to your face. This allows the screen to create not just one static 3D illusion, but dozens a second, tricking your mind into believing that there’s a whole other world behind the screen of your phone.

Norrby is far from the first person to play with trompe-l’oeil (also called “parallax”) in the modern age. Johnny Lee, now at Google working on augmented reality, first made his mark by turning a stock television and a Nintendo Wiimote into a wild 3D game. When Microsoft first launched Kinect, its developers told me how excited they were about implementing trompe-l’oeil. . .though while media artists made it work, the effect never made its way into any commercial games. Amazon’s failed Fire Phone (remember that?!?) used the effect within the core menus and apps of its operating system. But people were pretty creeped out by a phone that was always looking at their face, back in 2014. It’s also worth noting that modern virtual reality headsets work the same way–they need to be glued to your eyeballs to work.

[Image: Peder Norrby]

Maybe the iPhone X will be the first to take the effect mainstream. Norrby will be sharing his code soon for any developer to incorporate. I’d like to believe the future of interface design is lurking inside, but at this point, I’d settle for a couple of jaw-dropping games to make that subway commute just a little more annoying for everyone around me.

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