Now that Leap Motion has shipped its $80 3D motion controller, the company has its eyes on a bigger goal of embedding the technology into PCs, tablets, smartphones and other devices.
In October, Leap will take a baby step with the HP Envy 17 Leap Motion SE. It’s the first laptop with an embedded Leap Motion controller, and it uses a new module that’s 70 percent thinner than the one inside Leap’s standalone sensor. The Envy 17 will go on sale at “select U.S. retailers” and HP’s website for $1050.
In an interview, Leap CEO Michael Buckwald said there wasn’t any technical reason that necessitated a 17-inch laptop, and said the new module could fit into much smaller notebooks. Leap went with a large laptop because of how immersive the bigger screen can be, he said. The hope is that HP’s laptop will be on display at retail stores, where users will get to try some motion-controlled apps.
“I think that in a long line of computers that look the same, and cost the same, and feel the same, and do the same things, being different and opening up possibilities that didn’t exist before … I think that is a powerful differentiator,” Buckwald said.
The company still has deals in place with HP and Asus to bundle the standalone controller with select computers as well. But so far, no other partnerships or specific products have been announced. “We are definitely talking to many OEMs about embedding this technology in many different products,” Buckwald said.
Leap first made a name for itself in May 2012, when it announced its 3D motion controller and put out a snazzy-looking demo video. The technology appeared to be more accurate than Microsoft‘s Kinect at a fraction of the cost, and was geared more toward general-purpose computing, not just entertainment. It seemed to be a glimpse of a future where natural interfaces help relieve the mouse and keyboard of at least some of their duties.
But when the finished product launched in July, it was still a work in progress. The first crop of apps was heavy on diversions and light on utilities, and there was too much inconsistency from one app to the next. Each app seemed to have a different way of approaching menus, cursors and drop-down lists.
Things have improved a bit over the past couple months. Leap Motion’s app store, called AirSpace, has about 30 more apps than it did at launch, and many of them seem better than their predecessors. (I’m particularly enamored with Kontrol, a $3 Windows app with highly-customizable operating system controls. I’ve been using it to scroll through long web pages while leaning back in my chair, and to switch between full screen and windowed modes in Chrome with a swipe gesture.)
Buckwald said that refining the software and creating more consistency between apps is a major focus for leap. Better apps will be coming soon, Buckwald said, as developers have been able to observe the successes and failures of the first wave of Leap apps. “We’ve worked out which experiences users love and which experiences have frustrated users,” he said.
Leap still doesn’t feel like an essential tool, but it might be easier to get there as the 3D motion controller begins showing up in more products. HP’s single Leap-supported laptop is a good first step, but given how many computing devices are on the market, it’s also a sign of how young the concept is.