Over a year long wait is over. Leap Motion™ Controller now rests before my Mac, and I’ve had the first tastes using it. When you have to wait something for a year, the expectations tend to cumulate. Especially when the headlines for the last year have spun over Google Glass, the iWatch rumors – and this little gadget.
Let’s get this straight and over with: The device doesn’t bring you Iron Man / Minority Report style gesture interface you dreamed of. Not by far. The only similarity with the previous is what Tom Cruise already experienced while filming the Minority Report UI parts – using Leap Motion Controller (or similar) for five minutes makes your hands tired, and you need a break.
Now, having that said, let’s see what we really got!
Contrary to Coca Cola™ company’s belief, Image is everything. The gadget comes in a little white box, which very much resembles the packaging of Apple products. Things done right, feels you got something special. The content of the box is also minimal – the device itself, 2 USB cords (long and short), and a small note. The device itself is pure design – shiny aluminum casing, usb port and the green power led. On top, there’s protective tape covering the sensors window with a message to “go to leapmotion.com/setup to activate the product”.
Time to plug in the device. On the setup site you’ll find a link to download Airspace™ – the desktop application, which will serve as home for all your Leap applications. You’ll also get to see an introductory video while the app is donwloading.
Apps and Store
Airspace is also the entrance point to the Airspace Store, where you’ll download your Leap apps. The store contains both free and paid apps, and apps for both Mac and Windows. There are apps that work on windows, apps that work on Mac, and apps that work on both. Part of the apps are Leap made demos, and the rest are the results of a very extensive developer community attraction campaign, which is of course crucial to the product’s success. Here are some examples of the apps I tested.
Leap orientation app
This is the initial Leap-made product demo which will run when you finish installing the Airspace. This beautiful app shows you what the device perceives – with some very handsome animations. After this, you’ll have some kind of grasp of the device’s field of vision and abilities. The robot hand part is quite impressive – the app produces a real time animation of your hands with finger joints on the screen.
What can I say. Cut the Rope fits perfectly. You cut the ropes by swiping with your finger. And you “click” by keeping your finger still on a button, not by moving your pointing finger forward. The solution seems to work decently. Dropchord is a neat game (with super sounds!!!) where you first point with both index fingers to control the game. As the play progresses, you soon have both hands all fingers in the game. I cannot describe this any better, one of those things you really have to try yourself. I loved this! The only app I have really bought so far is the Solar Warfare. The idea of flying by hand seemed tempting. And it really is – for a while. This is the game which shows how stressing the prolonged use of the controller can be. The app also really tests the limits of Leap: The accuracy of the control when you level the plane with your hand, and fingers detection; You fire by putting all fingers tight together. If you spread them, the firing stops. In a way this is another way to “click”. A stressful way I might add.
Cut the Rope
Flocking is a very nice animation of fish flocking – following your hand 3D movements. If you move slowly, the fish will follow, and make a quick movement – they’ll flee. Molecules demonstrates an approach on how you can pan, zoom and rotate molecule models with your 3D hand movements. In theory this sounds legit, but in real life – does not seem to work for this purpose. Or the app just failed in this. Difficult to tell.
Controlling non-leap apps
The interesting part was, that you can use Leap to control non-leap apps. I currently found two generic apps of this type in the store. Better Touch Tool lets you assign gestures to action commands either for all apps, or just the ones you selected. The app is still “in development, please give feedback”-mode. I tested assigning hand movements from left to right and right to left to powerpoint page up and down keys. The result – I could swap slides with my hand gestures, and it worked perfectly. If you assign slide transition from left-right and to all the slides, the result is quite impressive (I’ll be using this on my next presentation to amaze the peasants, that’s for sure…). The other one – Touchless for Windows might be suitable for the next dream use case:
Think Windows 8 “metro” user interface on your laptop. It’s originally designed to be used by touch, and simply doesn’t work decently with a regular mouse. The common mice with scroll wheel are designed only for up-down scrolling, not for sideways movement. I never liked the idea of poking and sliding my laptop screen with my greasy fingers. But – this is something Leap fits perfectly. Scroll the UI sideways with Leap! Poke the tiles without actually having to smudge your laptop screen. Sadly I don’t have Win8 to test this IRL.
Better Touch Tool
What is Leap actually good for
The cases where Leap contoller fits it’s intended purpose, are the ones that a) don’t stress your hands, and b) the gesture is fairly reliably recognized by the controller. Like the following:
Apps that you control by pointing one finger
Like Cut the Rope or Fruit Ninja. Doodling with a “pen”. These work nicely, given that you can support your elbow somewhere to relieve the stress. The table in front of you. Chair arm rest. If the app doesn’t require extensive “clicking” – a sure fit.
Apps that you control by pointing a finger with both hands
I really don’t know what this would be good for in real life yet, but the Dropchord game really exploited this idea. The control mechanism worked as you can support both elbows in front of controller.
Apps that you command with a few predefined gestures
Like controlling Powerpoint, or Windows 8. These commands can be incorporated in either the app itself (thus making the app a “Leap app”), or you can use the available utility apps. There’s also a dedicated app for PowerPoint – AirPoint – have to try this next… These rarely needed gestures don’t stress your hands.
Reminder – The Other gesture controller…
It’s good to remember that Leap is not the only option for consumer priced gesture controller. About a year ago I tested DIY 3D scanning, which was using Kinect for Windows as a budget 3D scanner. Kinect for Windows is technically the exact same device sitting on top of your XBOX today. It just has blue stickers instead of green ones, and it comes Windows drivers (and a bigger price tag). It also has a very handsome API for developers to build apps with. I’m still wondering why MS is stalling with it’s marketing – it’s a magnificient device! Both Kinect and Leap play in the same market, although their approach is quite different. Kinect is very coarse, while Leap is very precise. Kinect sees your whole body and the room you’re are in, Leap sees the details – hands and finger movement. Depending on your applications needs, you could use either one for gesture control.
… and an idea
I bet it won’t take long until a propellerhead figures, that Leap could be used to scan 3D objects more precisely than Kinect ever could. With Kinect resolution, the minimum 3D scan size is roughly a size of a shoe. The things people are printing now with their small sized, experimental 3D printers are much smaller than shoe – iPhone covers, little Yoda figures etc, which are usually designed with 3D modeling tools. But to make 3D copies of existing real life objects you need a 3D scanner. And there is no default consumer priced 3D scanner for this size items… Hmmmm. Leap?
Even if Leap wasn’t quite up with the hype, it really is a fascinating piece of technology. Apps from Airspace store already give a glimpse of what the device is good for – and what it’s not. The amount of apps should anyway start multiplying soon, as the device is now slowly becoming available. And there will be new ways, gestures and ideas invented of how to use the control better. For the price of USD 80 + shipping, you can afford to give it a chance. Go ahead and try, it’s fun!
See also my related blog articles
Credits for the images other than mine