Look Away, And This iPhone App Pauses Your Video

Yes, it’s a bit unbelievable. Yes, it totally works.

Look Away, And This iPhone App Pauses Your Video
Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design (Illustration)

Several months back, we featured PredictGaze. It was a series of human tracking algorithms that would use a webcam to pause a TV when someone left a room, or scroll through iPad photos through looking alone. To be honest, we were skeptical. But now, some of this cutting edge interaction design technology is making its way to the market in a free app.


LookAway, by Cube26, is a free iOS video app with an amazing trick*: Whenever you turn away from the screen, the YouTube clip will pause. Turn back, and it will continue to play.

“For device control to be useful, we believe that it has to closely mimic what comes naturally to people,” Cube26 CEO Saurav Kumar tells Co.Design. “The device needs to be able to get some things done without having to specify explicitly those actions.”

The first time you try LookAway, it feels like magic. The second time you try LookAway, it just feels like life. How many times has someone walked into the room while you’re watching a movie or playing a video game, and diverted your attention at an inopportune time? Maybe you should pick up the remote and pause the DVR, but then you’d have to break eye contact with your spouse or whomever (which would seem rude, even though it’s not), dig for the remote, pause and let them finish. LookAway would solve this omnipresent oddity in my own couch potato life.

That said, Kumar does recognize that this particular gesture probably isn’t perfect for every screen. He believes that, at the TV level, content should only pause when someone leaves the room, since we frequently multitask while watching TV. But a cellphone or tablet is a more personal, attention-demanding device. And, quite simply, we don’t tend to hold a phone up to our face unless we’re using it. The TV is always positioned in line-of-sight.

For Cube26, LookAway seems mostly to be a proof-of-concept. But interestingly enough, its pause feature will become a native “Smart Pause” experience in the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4. And that’s a good move, as the more natural an interaction is, the more deeply it needs to engrain itself into the core OS. Because, until users can depend on look-to-pause to be as ubiquitous as real pause buttons, we’ll never be able to obtain the ultimate goal of naturalistic gestures: Living our lives without stopping to consider the machines enabling them.

Download it here.


* The app also features a “shh” gesture to mute function. In my testing, there appeared to be a bug where the app was always muted, but the company is working on a fix.

[IMAGE: Man via Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.