The Leap Motion controller was announced months ago and created a lot of hype. Sure, it brings a new, fresh approach to human-computer interaction, but it can be hard to master.
The device itself is very well made and comes in a great package with two USB cables (a longer and a shorter one). Software installation is as simple as any other PC or Mac device: run the configuration program and plug in the Leap Motion controller to have access to a full 3D, in the air, user interaction experience.
You then create an account which will be used to download free or paid for apps that use the devices features. These apps, developed around the world using the API made available by Leap Motion range from free to US$79.99, covering categories such as education, games, science, entertainment, news and tools & utilities.
You can start those apps from the local Airspace program, a guide to all the programs you download and install on your system.
Some of these apps are very well made, with incredible response to your gestures. Others lack a bit of refinement, which could be coming in a next version. Still, this is nothing to do with the hardware, but with how developers decided to implement a 3D-based user interface.
The device works by creating a 3D area above the device where all movements is tracked. It can follow not only one or two fingers, but all ten fingers at once.
For example, the free application Touchless, developed by Leap Motion, allows you to control some elements of your Windows or Mac system. Basically the area above the device is split between a hover and a touch zones. Move your finger around while in the hover zone and you will see a circle on screen following your movements. Push your finger through to the touch zone and the on screen circle gets smaller until it turn green - and that activates an action similar to a mouse click.
This is the basic mode. In the advanced mode you have other actions that will be performed depending on how many fingers you have pointing at the screen.
An interesting thing that happens when you plug in the Leap Motion to a non-touch Windows device is the Touch Keyboard icon shows up in the taskbar, allowing you to use the Touchless app to (almost) control your PC mouseless and keyboard-free
Touchless could be an interesting mouse and keyboard replacement, if it wasn't for a couple of things that I've noticed: you have to manually copy it to the Startup folder, it always starts in "Disabled" mode and the "move your finger into the touch zone" metaphor. It would be a lot better if instead they had implemented the "hover over an object for a few seconds to activate it" experience that some of the developers decided to adopt and is common with Kinect for example. Again, a software problem, nothing to do with the hardware.
And here is an important thing to have in mind: novices alike will tend to try and "touch" the screen, as a natural way of interacting with a computer. There's a bit of a training curve where people will have to realise small movements get better results, you don't need to touch the screen, but only be "in the area" and moving your hand more than 20cms from the controller simply means you lost control.
For example, in the video below you see someone who never used the Leap Motion playing a very simple game. Notice how the hand is kept above the device instead of moving towards the screen all the time, which makes for a smooth game. Obviously the person playing the game gained confidence with time and started moving the hands faster after a few minutes playing it:
Some existing applications already support alternate input devices. I tried Google Earth and you can browse around the planet, zoom in and zoom out by using those gestures made famous by a Hollywood movie.
The company says hundreds of thousands pre-ordered the device, which is now shipping. At US$79 it's a great way to get into the future of human interaction. The big push will be when existing application developers do what the Google Earth team did and start working with this alternative experience out of the box. In the meantime you still have access to some very interesting apps available in the Airspace store.
- High resolution 3D field capable of tracking multiple points
- Simple installation process
- Nice design and build
- The basic Touchless app could be a little smarter and easier to interact with