If you’ve seen Iron Man or the massively popular Avengers movie, you’ve likely coveted how Tony Stark was able to interface with his computer: three dimensional holographic display that responded to natural gestures, no keyboard required. How would you feel to know that it’s now a lot closer to reality?
Leap is quite simply the next step in computer interface and control. The iPod-sized device and accompanying software creates a three dimensional plane that senses the position of your hands and fingers in real time; providing a whole new realm of possibilities. The demo video does more than words ever could (if you look closely one the games being demonstrated is one of my all time favorites- the Lost Coast chapter of the venerable Half Life series!):
It’s only available as a pre-order, but the cost is a surprising $69.99- less than the Kinect interface for the XBox 360 yet far more sensitive. Leap will be compatible with both OSX and Windows versions 7 and 8. Set up is about as simple as possible- plug in the unit to a USB port, load the software, and do a quick wave through the sensor plane to calibrate. Some of the non-game interactions mimic tablet touchscreen functions without actual physical contact. This would be of great benefit with computers in a healthcare setting; the spread of infection from touch is a constant concern, and disinfecting equipment is both time consuming and causes wear and tear on the devices (when it is even done- keyboards and mice are rarely thought of as a vector for infection yet they are touched throughout the day by healthcare providers).
I find this sort of new technology absolutely fascinating, particularly for OSX. Apple has already laid a good foundation for an interface like Leap through OSX’s multitouch gestures; a third party input like Leap would mesh well with existing features. Since the introduction of the Magic Trackpad I’ve only used a mouse for gaming; the trackpad is far easier and more functional than even Apple’s competing Magic Mouse. The makers of Leap are looking for developers to help take advantage of the possibilities of this new input, but even a Luddite should realize its value.
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Apple has been long known as an organization unafraid to discontinue technology they consider to be obsolete. Their moves have been almost prognostic; they were the first to retire the floppy drive, the first to discontinue providing wired accessories (keyboard and mouse) with their desktop systems, and now with the success of the MacBook Air it seems as though they will be the first to retire the optical drive (as I’ve previously argued).
When I opted to finally ditch my last home-brewed PC for an iMac (a decision I’ve been very happy with) I opted for Apple’s Magic Mouse instead of the just-released Magic Trackpad. At the time having a huge laptop trackpad instead of a mouse didn’t make much sense, and I’ve been conditioned to reach for a mouse not only by my prior PC experience but also because of my love for FPS gaming. I didn’t use the Magic Mouse long; I found it to be uncomfortable (too flat and unwieldy, even short use gave me cramps in my hand) and I switched back to my Microsoft Arc Mouse.
With the release of Snow Leopard Apple brought a slew of multitouch gestures to all OSX devices. Although handy, the new feature was limited by older hardware; some trackpads could sense multiple touch points but not enough additional information to make all of the new multitouch gestures possible. While the Magic Mouse was capable of performing multitouch gesture commands, using it in this manner was at best cumbersome as the mouse is designed to slide over a surface and must be held still with some fingers while others perform the gesture. Frustrated, I turned to Apple’s other control option: the Magic Trackpad. I was surprised to find just how useful the new trackpad is, especially when controlling my media center Mac Mini (usually done from an overstuffed leather couch, where there is little to no useable real estate for a mouse to roam). I use the trackpad almost exclusively with my iMac as well; the trusty Arc Mouse only comes out of it’s storage slot when I fire up Left 4 Dead or Half Life.
Apple upped the ante with OSX Lion, further integrating multitouch controls into the everyday use of the Mac lineup. As with the multitouch gestures in Snow Leopard some can be performed with the Magic Mouse, but it’s a clumsy alternative. Apple seems to have quietly decided to let the mouse slide into antiquity, focusing on developing a new control system centered on multitouch gestures and keyboard shortcuts that better mimics the environment offered by iOS. The newer gestures like the four fingered swipe to bring up the Launchpad or the host of three fingered swipes just aren’t doable on the small surface of the mobile Magic Mouse.
Unless a pundit points out the omission, Apple is happy to let their strategic decision to phase out a technology quietly ripple through their product line. While I think Apple with continue to support the mouse as an input device, I think it’s fairly obvious where they believe the future leads- to a decidedly non-mouse-centered user experience.
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