After a seven-month wait, the Leap Motion Controller is now shipping to its initial customers so that they can pretend to be Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" and casually move their hands around in the air in order to control a computer across the other side of the room.
Despite only being in existence since 2010 and despite the fact that this controller is the company's first-ever product, Leap Motion has quickly established itself as the poster boy for gesture-based computer interface. But a quick look at any of its promotional videos will quickly explain why the company has managed to capture the imaginations of so many technophiles and average consumers alike.
The device, roughly the same size as a USB flash drive, can track the individual fingers of both hands simultaneously (as well as the wrists and arms to which they're attached) and offers users a range of 8 cubic feet. It plugs directly into a Mac or a PC via a USB port and operates via a suite of specially designed apps. And all for just $79.99.
"Today marks a tremendous milestone for the company, but we're just getting started," said Leap Motion co-founder and CEO Michael Buckwald. "Leap Motion enhances the computing experience to allow people to do things in new and better ways, and we're committed to breaking down the barriers between people and technology to make the future more easily accessible."
And the early reviews, posted Monday, also underline that there's more than simple hyperbole in Buckwald's statement, there is plenty of work that needs to be done in order to bring the device up to scratch. Reviewers' overriding opinion is that it is a device that, though wonderfully designed, is nowhere near the finished product. And, although it already has a suite of 75 apps, the controller brings no native functionality to a PC or Mac. It can't replace a PC's mouse or keyboard and will only take control of a desktop or notebook via a specific app.
However, thanks to the fact that it runs apps and that firmware and drivers can be updated, consumers who are early adopters needn't panic. Software updates will be released as the product improves and more and more people have tested it and found bugs. And when that happens there's every possibility that the Leap Motion Controller will live up to all of the hype. For now, as Gigaom's Stacey Higginbotham puts it in her early bird review, "For the most part, I thought it felt more like a gimmick. But for those not expecting magic right away, or those willing to wait for more developers to release apps, the Leap might grow into something amazing."
The Leap Motion Controller is compatible with Apple Mac Computers running OSX 10.7 or later or a WinTel PC running Windows 7 or later. However, it also requires a minimum Intel Core i3 or AMD Phenom II processor, 2 GB RAM and a USB 2.0 port.