Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Leap Motion Review: Part 1 - First Look at Hardware


Control your computer with natural hand movements
The Leap Motion 3-D Motion Controller is designed to allow you to control your Mac or Windows PC with your hands.  It's goal is to let you do things on your computer just like you do them in real life, using natural movements.  The controller is designed to sense your hands and fingers so you can use them to control your computer.

The video below from Leap Motion's home page will give you an introduction to the device and it's possibilities.



Your First Meeting

Leap Motion controller in a box
The Leap Motion controller comes packaged in a simple but elegant box.  The kind of high quality and hassle free packaging you expect from Apple products and some third party Apple accessories.

You open the box and the first thing you see is a cardboard note directing you with the message:
"Welcome to a whole new world.  
To activate your Leap Motion Controller go to leapmotion.com/setup."

And indeed, you'll soon discover it IS a whole new world, but built with very familiar things and it works in very familiar ways.  This setup page will direct you to download the Mac or Windows software for the controller.  The app is called Airspace.  Once you start the download you will be sent to a Thanks for downloading page with a Getting Started video on it.

The Getting Started video walks you through connecting the controller, installing the software and shows you a little bit of what the Leap Motion controller can do, with a mesmerizing orientation.  Leap Motion has also posted a number of videos on YouTube showing demos, tips, tutorials and more.

The Airspace software installs quickly and easily as any app would.

Leap Motion Airspace software installer

Once the software installer is done, just connect the motion controller and you're off and running.

Software installer completes

The orientation then begins and walks you through some simple examples of how your computer can be controlled with the Leap Motion controller.


Make the light dance with your hand


The orientation, which can be later accessed from the Airspace app, will walk you through several animated effect scenes that demonstrate how the Leap Motion controller can be used.  Think of it as light animated with your fingers.  The background music it plays adds to the mystical feeling of your first introduction to this amazing device that let's you control light, with your hands flying through thin air.


Dancing lights with a 3D field

It can sense your fingers and even joints

Leap Motion's very own App Store

The fun really begins once you launch the Airspace app which will display the Airspace Home.  It works similar to an iPad home screen, in that it displays app icons and titles in a multiple page window.  It even displays the familiar dots at the bottom of the screen to visually indicate to you which page you are on.

Airspace Home screen

From the Airspace Home you can click on the Airspace Store.  The Airspace Store opens up into a web browser and let's you install apps into the Airspace app.  The store behaves very similar to the Apple app stores and each app's description page, includes an overview with some details about the app with screen shots that you can swipe through using gestures on the Apple Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, ratings and reviews from customers and more.  All the things you expect in an app store.

Airspace App Store home page

Once you install an app it will then appear in the Airspace app in the Home screen, where you can launch the app.  The Airspace app becomes your launchpad for Leap Motion apps.  The Airspace apps do not install in the OS, the way a native OS app would.  Instead the Airspace apps install in the Airspace Home and you launch them from there.

The Airspace app store contains 79 apps in total, as of July 30, 2013, and 20 of those are in free apps.  The paid apps run from 99 cents to $99.99.  There is just 1 app that costs $99.99.  All other paid apps are less than $10, with most just 2 or 3 bucks.  The apps are designed to run on Mac OS X, Windows or both.  There are 59 apps that run on the Mac and also 59 that run on Windows.  Showing that neither platform has a monopoly on Leap Motion apps or support.

Apps will make the difference

While the tech is wicked cool.  It's the apps that will make the tech useful and will provide the money shot.  The "killer app" as it were.  Here, as with mobile apps, it will be not 1 killer app, but a killer app catalog to choose from.  Leap Motion clearly gets it, and hence we have the Airspace app store.  And well executed - especially considering that it's barely a week ago.

So the variety of apps can be the winning strategy for a tech like Leap Motion.  So what do we have ?  To start with, we've got 79 apps (as of July 30, 2013) from some names you might recognize.  And some app titles you might recognize too.

While 47 apps categorize themselves as Games, there are also categories for Productivity & Utilities with 13 apps, Creative Tools with 12, Education with 10, Music & Entertainment with 16, Science with 9 and Experimental with 13.  Note that some apps categorize themselves in more than 1 category so totaling up the app totals by category, won't match the 79 app total.

It's a very good start.

How's the tech ?

I've watched and used motion control tech for quite a while.  Motion control has played a significant role in gaming.  Most famously the Nintendo Wii, which shipped in 2006, is built on motion control tech.  Albeit, simple - the tech is well executed and Nintendo has sold over 100 million Wii consoles.

Sony PlayStation Move controller
Of course Nintendo is not alone.  Sony released the PlayStation Move tech in Sept 2010, Microsoft shipped Kinect for the Xbox in Nov 2010.

I've used the Sony PlayStation Move tech a lot, and it is excellent.  Very accurate, but with some lags in response time to movements.  Nintendo's motion control tech is OK, but lacks accuracy.  Sufficient for family gaming, but not hard core gaming like first person shooters.  Microsoft's motion control tech is just a novelty, and lacks the accuracy for serious gaming that the PlayStation Move provides.  But they are all now very out of date.  Although all three companies are expected to release their next gen consoles soon, and hopefully refresh their motion tech too.

Leap Motion's tech is the first seriously good motion control tech for Macs and PCs.  And it is extremely accurate.  And does not suffer from the lags in response time that some other tech does.

Conclusions

The hardware tech absolutely has great promise.  And Leap Motion has gotten off to a great start.  With a very well designed app store and a lot of buzz.  But it's just a week old now and as I said, it's the apps that will make the difference.  The difference between a useful, maybe even revolutionary tech, and... well... Not.

So my conclusions...  for now...  are:  Great start, great promise, let's see how the app support develops.  Let's keep an eye on this.  It will be interesting...

Wishlist

More Apps

More apps will come in time.  Perhaps very quickly, if developers and customers alike, are as fascinated as I am with the possibilities that this tech presents us.  

OS Integration

I think that Leap Motion itself can contribute greatly to the immediate usefulness of their tech by providing out of the box integration with the OS.  For example provide the software to allow the motion controller to substitute for pointing and control devices.  Mac OS X already has excellent built in support for gestures using Apple's Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.  The Leap Motion controller seems like a natural replacement.  Windows 8 does have support for a touch interface, although a very poorly designed overall touch User eXperience (UX).

There is a free app in the Airspace app store called BetterTouchTool that allows you to configure many gestures to control your Mac.  It's got some great reviews with 5 out of 5 stars.  But it's clearly marked by it's developer as experimental and requires configuration to get it working.  There is also a similar app for Windows that claims to do similar things for Windows, but it does not have very good reviews and only 2 stars.

While these free apps are promising, neither of these are the kind of "out of the box" ready tech that "just works" that is needed for widespread adoption.

Let the motion controller control the Airspace app.

A seemingly natural first use of this motion controller that can support gesture control, is to use a swipe gesture to move from page to page, as you do on a touch device like an iPad.  But alas, no, it didn't work in the Airspace app.  This relates to the last wishlist item, OS integration.

Coming Soon....

Since there are so many dimensions to something like motion control tech, I'm starting, what I hope to be, a series of articles on the Leap Motion tech.  And I'll follow up with reviews of the apps, that will make or break the success of this potentially ground breaking product.

So stay tuned.  More coming soon....

2 comments:

  1. Bought one of these for Jane's birthday. Don't tell her, though. Her birthday isn't until next week.

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    1. Let us know here, what Jane thinks about it.

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