Leap Motion is the newest product in the tech industries near obsession with ouch controls. It is the product of the minds of Michael Buckwald and David Holz, and looks to be the device that will transform any boring old computer screen into a magical world of swiping, gesturing, and the like. I had the opportunity to over the past week to use the Leap motion first hand, and while the it is supposed to be the thought that counts, the Leap Motion had trouble finding a useful place in my home office setup.
The Leap Motion is available online, and more recently, at Best Buy, for a mere $79. Not a terrible price for such an innovative piece of tech for sure, but sitting above that $50 price point that makes it just a little too pricey to get on sheer curiosity alone. As for what’s in the box if you do pick one up, it is pretty simple — you have the Leap motion itself, a short and long USB cable, and some paperwork (See below for some unboxing photos). That’s it. And setup is similarly simple. All you have to do is plug the little guy up, set up a quick account, and start playing around. The account that you a required to account is needed because the first thing you’ll see after a quick setup and calibration is Airspace. Airspace is basically where all of you Leap Motion apps will live. That’s right, more apps! Preloaded apps include an Orientation app, a demo of Cut the Rope for Leap Motion, and Molecules, an app that allows you to move around and study… you guessed it, molecules!
This also bring me to one of my biggest issues with Leap Motion — apps aren’t always free. That’s right, while there is a “Free App” section in the Airspace store, there are also many paid apps, ranging in price from $.99 to $29.99 from what I saw. There were several apps I want to give a try, only to realize that to do so would mean paying $10, and with many of those paid apps not having an option for demos (Though to be fair some of the pricier ones do), it’s a risky venture to invest your hard-earned bucks on an app you don’t really have any way of testing. I will say that I found on completely free app, call the BetterTouch Tool, that was the saving grace of this device. It takes preprogrammed gestures like “Two Fingers Down”, “Five Fingers Right”, or even “Clap” and lets you assign them to many basic tasks like Play/Pause, Show Desktop, or even specific keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl+V to paste some bit of highlighted text. It even has options to program you Apple Trackpad, Magic Mouse, Apple Remote, and many other common devices in a similar manner. It’s not perfect but it gets the job done more than any other app I was able to find.
The biggest issue with the Leap motion though, is not apps, nor is it the price, it is a little ditty I like to call haptic feedback. This is simply the sense of touch or interaction used in any given UI to provide the user with a feedback in realtime. An easy example of this is the little vibration you feel whenever tapping a screen on an Android phone. That little vibration is letting you know that you have, in fact, correctly pressed a button, and now things will happen. The Leap Motion literally has zero haptic feedback. It creates an area above the device that will pick up your gestures and movement, but if you move out of that area, or are trying to move your hand into it, there is nothing telling you you’ve got it right. I also had an app running that allowed me to use my finger to move the mouse pointer, but when I would lean in to type something on the keyboard, it would occasionally pick up my head or beard and my pointer would start flying all over the place. It was frustrating to say the least.
It’s not the Leap Motion doesn’t work, it is simply that the uses I see for it are first; limited but what you can do on a desktop with a touch control system and second; frustratingly hard to use at times even in best case situations because of the lack of haptic feedback. But I have to give the creators of the device credit where credit is due. Leap Motion is the first of its kind and quite an innovation for sure. I’m excited to see what the team at Leap Motion has in store for us in the future.
The Leap Motion is a cool little gadget, and if you love being an early adopter then by all means jump online and drop that $79. But if you’re looking to turn your boring old PC monitor into a sweet new touch screen that all the cool kids will be jealous of, then you may want to hold off and see if Leap Motion shows up with a 2.0 version sometime in the not to distance future. To their credit, the Leap Motion is already available via retail, and has a deal in place to be packaged in with some Asus computer products soon. Who knows, maybe this whole gesture control business might just catch on.