So, I've had my latest toy delivered and it's called the Leap Motion.
What is the Leap? In the words of the manufacturer "With a wave of a hand or lift of a finger, you’re about to use your computer in a whole new way. The Leap Motion Controller senses how you move your hands the way you naturally move them. So you can point, wave, reach, and grab. Even pick something up and put it down. Just like in real life. It’s an amazing device for the things you do every day and for things you never thought you could do."
Basically, think of the film "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise interacts with a large screen by gesturing in front of it. That's kind of the gist of the device.
The device itself looks like it has been designed by Apple - very minimalist in style and is about 13mm tall by 80mm long. However the looks of the unit itself are somewhat ruined by the fact that it has to be connected by a USB lead to your machine, (PC or Mac). 2 USB leads are provided in the box, a short one and a long one. In my opinion however if ever a device should be battery powered and connected by a radio dongle to the machine, then this should have been the one. Mind you for around £60/$80 what do you expect I guess?
No software is provided in the box as you can download this from the web, which shouldn't be an issue for most, but apparently there are a few people around without t'internet access... unimaginable...! Setup however isn't much more than plugging the device in and installing the software.
Before it becomes useful though you need to download a few programs from Airspace. Airspace is the "app store" for Leap and is probably where you get your first little shock... This being that most of the useful apps actually have to be paid for. The entry programs such as "Touchless" for both the Mac and Windows are free, which is just as well, because general interaction with the operating system isn't really possible without these. However most of the interesting programs do have a price, which in the scheme of things is logical as they are created by independent developers and of course they need to be paid somehow. However it really wasn't something that was discussed before the device was released and so wasn't really expected.
So what's using the device like? Well... It's not very reliable yet and also not that intuitive, but I think this will improve over time. Well frankly it has to, otherwise it'll end up just being one of those toys that gets discarded after a while.
The main problem is that the Touchless program just allows you to mimic existing touch or mouse interactions with the operating system, so if you want to close a window you have to try and "press" the close button on the window. This is easier said than done and needs a real steady hand. What we actually need is more gestures to do stuff, like waving your hand in a particular way, or finger gestures. Maybe someone will write an app to do this, but I actually think that Leap should take control of this and provide some universal gestures. If an outside developer is allowed to do this, then possibly various gestures will have different meanings in different apps.
So, it's an interesting start point, but I think the Leap Motion still has a way to go before it takes over from a mouse or a touch screen...
**Update October 2013 - It really didn't tick any boxes for me, so I sold it on EBay...!