It was only a few hours ago that the latest in motion capture devices started appearing in my feeds, along with all of the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Ahhhs’ (or thereabouts) of my geeky, gadget-loving friends.
I watched the video, and yes, initially was impressed. It’s slick, and is paired with exactly the right ambient soundtrack that you’d expect of a great prototype video like this. It’s hard not to be wowed:
All this, and ready for pre-order at $69.99? Seems too good to be true. I’m not buying it.
Here’s what’s holding me back:
Is this practical?
Let’s imagine that this device was as magical as the video and their website proclaims. Try this experiment: Play the video above again, but this time, mimic the movements of the hand model, even roughly, for the full minute. Tiring, eh? Now imagine using it to play a game, or to navigate a map, or to do your online shopping. Holding your arm up like that just isn’t practical. Precision doesn’t count for much if your hand is tired and wavering.
Is this really as good as they say?
It’s easy to make a prototype look whizz-bang cool in a video. It appears well shot at first glance, but it’s clear that there’s something not actually working here. Check out the backwards Apple symbol at 0:36. A few of composite clips and some clever hand acting, and you’ve got yourself a product video that captures your attention.
They’ve got some work to do, clearly. Along the way, I see a few ways this promise could run into some technical roadblocks:
- Compatibility with major operating systems and programs.
A lack of support from manufacturers here, or a bad implementation of driver software, could make this a nightmare to use. In a day where more and more complex gesture driven interaction is expected, will this device be able to keep up with and exceed the convenience of today’s in-built trackpads?
- Undefined working area.
They are touting an interaction space of 8 cubic feet, theoretically pretty sound. But is it going to be just as accurate and responsive 2 inches from the device as it is 12 inches above or to the side? Am I going to be plagued by ‘dropping my cursor’ as I leave the 3D interaction space while flailing my arms around trying to find cinema listings or nail a headshot? At least I can feel the edge of a trackpad, and can intuitively respond.
- Interpretation of movements.
The sensitivity they are claiming, at 200x that of other touch-free products, sounds fantastic. This is a clincher if this thing is going to fly. On top of this, though, and not mentioned, is acceleration of that same point. If I want to write in a tiny box, I may have trouble doing so with equally tiny and precise movements. If I slow down, this thing has got to take that in account. Likewise, it’s got to account for the angle at which I point. Just try writing your name on the same plane as your screen, with a pen or your finger. It’s tough. When holding a pen, writing on a more horizontal plane is just a much more natural movement. That said, this might just come down to how well it’s integrated with the programs that need to interpret the movements, which brings me back to my initial concern about tight compatibility with my existing programs. If the hardware can handle it and feed back these minute movements, the software will have to know exactly how to interpret it, or we’ll end up with a hugely frustrating experience.
Who are these guys?
More worryingly, this company doesn’t have any past track record of delivering consumer tech products like this. While they’ve succeeded in securing nearly $15 million in funding from reputable angels and VCs, before I slap down my own credit card, I want some assurance that something is going to get delivered that is as astounding as the video suggests.
Additionally, the pre-order form seems perfectly happy to offer me the same low price for shipping to the US as it does for the UK. That’s unlikely. If I place my order today, I worry that the original deal may not get honoured. Update: The pre-order form has been updated since I first checked it out earlier today, along with some reassuring copy about the terms of your pre-order. Well done guys!
What’s the rush, anyway?
While I do love having the latest gadgets, I don’t see the need to pre-order. Sure, there might be a backorder and huge queues to get it once it does launch, but I’m happy to skip the fuss and see what others make of it. If, a few days after launch, I start seeing examples of it blowing minds in real life, I’ll do what I can to get my hands on one. Besides, while only at $69.99 now, it’s likely to be cheaper and more readily available within a few months of launch.
I’m not suggesting others don’t buy it. In fact, please do! Hack into it, take it for a test drive, tell me if it will blend and all the other great things we learn about new gadgets when they first come out. I can’t wait to see what the world makes of this.
I’m always wary about first generation anything, particularly if it’s the first from the company. I suspect, as with any new product, there’s going to be teething issues and a bit of a kick-back from the first customers. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I hope Leap Motion takes any feedback to heart, makes the necessary changes, serves their customers well, and gets the support they deserve from software manufacturers. What they are proposing here is nothing short of superbly cool, and I’d love to see one in action. I’ll likely pick one up within months or weeks of launch, if they play their cards right.
But right now? No, I’m not buying it.