Last week I finally got my hands on the final production version of the Leap Motion Controller almost a year and a half after it was announced. I’ave spent a lot of time trying it out, playing with the apps and have some thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of this new device.
There is no denying that using the Leap Motion Controller is cool and is unlike anything else I have ever experienced as an input device for my computer. The closest thing I could equate it to would be the Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect but its really is a different and much more advanced device. The biggest differences are its accuracy as it is able to sense up to a hundredth of a millimeter and the multiple gesture combinations which are touch-free gestures like pinch-to-zoom. The device itself is about the size of a pack of gum and it connects to your computer through a USB cable to your computer. Once it is connected you have to install the driver software and Airspace which is a combination app launcher and portal to their online app store to get new apps. The initial selection of apps is pretty limited with fewer than 20 free apps and the bulk the paid apps in the Games category. It is best to start with their orientation app which will help you understand the best use of the device, its sensitivity and how it sees you when you interact with it.
Once you learn the basics you can play around with the other apps but I found most of them to not be much more than a novelty that I quickly got bored with. The only practical and usable app is one called Touchless which lets you use Leap as a mouse replacement for computer. You can use different gestures like pointing with one finger for click or pointing to two fingers to scroll around on a web page.
After using a lot of the apps I started to notice a few things that weren’t what I expected or I just didn’t like but most of the were small enough that I compensated for them or just ignored them. However the biggest problem that I just could not get over was Leap’s decision to not create a consistent gesture vocabulary for all apps to share. With each new app I installed I had to learn a whole new set of gestures that would only be used in that one app and the lack of a common gesture vocabulary made it tough to want to keep trying new apps since you had to keep start gin from scratch each time to learn how to use them. I asked some questions about this problem and heard from Leap that they think the community will come together to create standards and that the problem will work itself out. I understand that point of view but I think its a mistake to leave something that critical in the hands of other people especially at a time when you make not have the time for those standards to emerge as new apps are being developed everyday and they need to find mass consumer adoption to be successful.[Tweet “The Leap controller is great hardware in need of a common gesture library”]
So after my time using Leap it feels a lot like my like recent work with Google Glass in that both devices are doing something completely new but because of the lack of apps and evolving functionality both devices are more potential than reality. So I am excited about its potential but only time will tell if their decision to not create an ecosystem will be a problem or hinder its long term success.