The Minority Report-future is getting closer. This week, Leap Motion is unveiling for developers its latest software and its app store, in preparation for the July 22 release of its product enabling hands-in-the-air precise control of computers.
In a Monday posting on its corporate blog, the company noted that the early access developer community will be beta testing Mac and PC operating system interactions, as well as utilizing the new app discovery platform, called Airspace. About 10,000 developers are working with early versions of the software, and the company is planning to soon open up its developer portal beyond those currently in the beta program.
The OS interaction will feature the ability to scroll and click with simple finger moves in the air. A desktop launcher will house all Leap Motion apps, including existing apps that have become Leap Motion-compatible through the API, such as Google Earth.
Boom Ball, Block 54
An interactive tutorial will automatically run after Leap Motion software has been downloaded, in order to orient the user to the field of view and other parameters. The tutorial also allows a user/developer to view on the screen a wireframe display indicating how the controller sees your hands.
Some of the initial games designed for the technology include a ping-pong style game called Boom Ball and Block 54, a Jenga-like block-stacking game. Some apps will be free, and paid ones will range from 99 cents to more than $500 for professional applications. Currently, the app store has about 50 apps, but that number is expected to grow quickly. As one indicator of application development interest, venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners has announced a $25 million Leap Fund specifically for technology and applications related to the platform.
The controller, introduced about a year ago, offers a 150-degree field of view and a high-resolution capability to track all ten fingers up to 290 frames per second. The controller, described by the company as about the size of an iPod, is expected to be priced at $79.99.
The big competitor in the gestural interaction market is Microsoft's Kinect, recently shown in an updated version for the newest Xbox video game console. While there are ongoing efforts to port the Kinect for use with computers, Leap Motion is focused on that market, and the company has said that its technology is "two hundred times more accurate than any product currently on the market," down to 1/100th of a millimeter.
Coming to Windows 8's Rescue?
One potential irony could be if Leap Motion ends up making Windows 8's touch screen interface more popular, especially if Kinect doesn't soon step up to the task. With this peripheral, users will be able to utilize the easy-to-target tile interface via arm gestures in front of the screen, possibly with less arm fatigue than, say, continually reaching out to touch a desktop screen -- and without the need to buy a touch-screen display or a tablet.
Al Hilwa, Program Director for Application Development at IDC, said that there's "no doubt new styles of interaction with PCs are going to grow and even explode at some point," although he said the key task for Leap Motion and others is to "figure out how to make this interaction natural." He added that, at $80, the Leap Motion controller is probably a bit high in price for most consumers, and early application development will most likely focus on gamers and certain verticals, such as medicine.