The days of the computer mouse, which has been both beloved and despised, are undoubtedly numbered. For mobile devices and, increasingly, laptops and desktops, it's clear that consumers love their touchscreens. And now along comes Leap Motion to push us closer to a 'Minority Report' vision of the future, where moving your hands and fingers is enough to control your computing device. For us, it can't happen fast enough.
Leap Motion is a gum package-size, motion-sensitive controller that connects to your Mac or Windows PC via regular USB. Place it in a convenient location – somewhere in front of the monitor feels about right – and it's able to sense the motion of your hands without any training or break-in period. It's kind of like Kinect for Xbox 360 or the new Xbox One, except much more subtle.
The sensor creates a field that's capable of not only detecting both your hands, but also all 10 of your fingers individually. The result is the ability to use it for a large variety of commands: one finger pushing forward, two fingers in a circle, three fingers flat, and so on – each can be tied to a different effect on screen. The precision takes some getting used to, especially if you're used to exaggerated limb motions when you play games with Kinect, but we figured it out quickly and were impressed.
With the right apps, downloaded from Leap Motion's iTunes-like Airspace store, it could truly transform how you interact with your computer. Which is the rub for now: Finding truly useful and not just one-off apps is still a bit of a challenge. Many of the best apps to-date play on Leap Motion's potential for virtual music making, while others get into gaming and art. Apps also exist that extend motion control to all aspects of your computer, from Web browsing to navigating system menus.
But for the most part, Leap Motion is a revolutionary technology that's stuck waiting for that one app that takes real advantage of its potential. Most of the apps have the feel of time wasters or diversions instead of legitimate productivity boosters (kind of like fart apps that proliferated when the iPhone launched). But while we wait for that killer app, it's a relatively low-cost investment to experience and experiment with some nifty tech, and one could be entertained for hours with apps such as 'Midnight,' which lets you manipulate visualizations with your hands to space-age music. Like, whoa. [$80; leapmotion.com]