First let me apologize for the vertical video above. I know that’s a travesty to the Internet. I was really darn excited for the Leap and my attempt at re-recording it turned out blurry and not nearly as good.
Day one with Leap Motion has been mostly a day of joy at interacting with my computer in a new way. Not just tapping and touching and scrolling but pushing and pulling and flying around as if my hand were out the car window. It’s been very refreshing. Lets see what setup was like.
The hardware is well packaged including two cables, one short if you’ve got usb on your keyboard or monitor and one long if you’re old school and have to run a cable to your pc under your desk. Aside from the leap itself which his a little silver box with a black top and bottom not much larger than a pack of gum the two cables are the only electronic things in the box. There’s a card on top welcoming you to the world of Leap Motion and a small folded paper with disclaimers and copyrights and the legal what not required to be in the box. The welcome card instructs you to visit http://leapmotion.com/setup which I promptly did. You are greeted with a screen containing two links. One for Windows and one for Mac. Unfortunately there is no out of the box Linux support which is a little disappointing. Linux is gaining steam very quickly so it seems almost silly for young companies to ignore other growing communities that way. I started off the day with Leap on my Windows 8 machine at home so I hit up that software first. The download was pretty slow as have been downloads of Leap apps from the Airspace store. I’m not sure why this is but it doesn’t make for the best user experience when it takes 20 minutes to download 57Mb. This was a small bump in the road however and most everything else has been smooth sailing. The setup is as quick as installing most other drivers. Several quick “Next” clicks and the Airplay store was in place and the 4 initial included apps were downloading. Again they took a while but that’s neither here nor there.
So what does the software consist of? Not a whole heck of a lot. The driver, obviously, an app called “Airspace” which is basically just a shortcut launcher for apps that are specifically Leap Motion enabled and a system tray icon that gives you quick access to Airspace, shows a color for how much interference from objects and things like other IR light the device is receiving. The obligatory color system is in place. Green is good, yellow is ok, red is bad. Surprisingly the unit is even smart enough to know when it’s got a smudge that could be interfering with it’s optics and it will ask you to clean it. Very slick! The market for Airspace apps is literally just a website that functions like almost every other web based market you’ve ever used. You create an account. Link your credit card if you so choose. And then download until your heart’s content. In fact the market is available to anyone who wants to take a look by going to http://airspace.leapmotion.com
I’m sure by now you’re saying in your head “Get to it man! Tell me how it works!”. Ok, it works really darn well. It’s not flawless but it’s certainly functional and incredibly cool. Cut the Rope is probably one of the more notable apps to have been brought on board to help sell the Leap. Sadly it’s one of the worst implementations. The acceleration of the pointer seems slow no matter how far down I turned the graphics quality to rule out hardware capability as an issue. The other is that it was very inconsistent with what speed of finger motion would succeed at cutting a rope. Some times you’d go slow to try to get on the other side of a rope and it would cut and other times you’d take a big whack at it and it wouldn’t cut. Moving on to something better and more interesting! Google Earth supports the controller out of the box. It’s very touchy and takes some getting used to but once you get the hang of tilting panning zooming and raising and lowering the back of your hand to control height it’s one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever experienced. It’s the true Minority Report experience everyone is always hoping for. The Leap Motion also comes with a two player game called ShimSham The Legend of Jazz Hands. Only one Leap is required and you each take a side of the Leap. You control the playing field with one finger and you use it to maneuver a ball and a black around the level. You are trying to keep your block from being captured by your opponents ball while also trying to find your way to your opponents block. Each time a block is touched it gets destroyed, points are scored, and you start back at your starting point with a fresh block. I’d call it some of the best local multiplayer I’ve played in years.
No product is perfect and the Leap Motion is no exception. Let me touch on a few of the issues. The first is that in some cases it’s almost too sensitive. I’d be trying to poke or spin something with my forefinger and if my thumb wasn’t curled tight enough it would detect the tip of my thumb as a second contact point. In some cases this would fubar whatever it was I was trying to do. This is and will be solved soon enough by some better detection math somewhere down the line. Definitely not anything to worry about. As devs get more comfortable and knowledgeable about the device you’ll see this issue go away. Lack of Linux support is another potentially big issue. It may be the circles I run in or it may be the state of the PC market post Windows 8 but a TON of people I know have gone Linux and they want but can’t use the device. Finally the Leap Motion uses some sort of specialized cable. It appears to be a microUSB cable plug situated next to a weird square plug with 5 or 6 additional pins. Have a look.
So those are a few of the apps that come ready at hand. I’m slowly working through some of the other apps and I’m sure I’ll write some more about the Leap as I have time. For now I’m going to leave you with a few examples of software that I think point the way to the potential for wonderful things the Leap may be bringing us in the future.
If you’ve got the slightest bit of curiosity about new technology or you’re a developer looking to get in at the ground level of some new and innovative technology then the Leap would be a great place to start. I don’t think it’s going to replace mice any time soon but it’s going to be found on plenty of desktops and, if the HP deal goes through, plenty of laptops in the years to come.