Critics are giving mixed reviews to the Leap Motion, a gesture-based controller that's intended to replace the mouse for desktop and laptop computers.
This candybar-sized wireless device from ExtensionEngine detects gestures made by users and converts the hand movements into instructions for controlling websites and software programs -- similar to the technology in Xbox 360's Kinect but only costing about $80. The product's hand gesture controls are reminiscent of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report.
Like the voice-control tools Siri (from Apple) and Glass (from Google), Leap Motion's 3D gesture control device anticipates a major shift in how users may interact with devices. But also like Siri and Glass, it has a lot of quirks to still work out, according to early reviewers of the device, which is shipping to its first customers this week.
Spin the globe with your fingers, thanks to Google Earth integration
The only travel-themed software that works with the device right out of the box is Google Earth, a program that presents satellite imagery of the globe's surface.
Here's the company's ideal, 30-second version of how the Leap Motion should interact with Google Earth.
The Leap Motion may be more of a stumble
Today the Google Earth Blog gave a balanced YouTube review of Leap Motion's interaction with Google Earth. The review could be summarized as, "the device is tiring to use" -- a view echoed by a Boston Globe critic late last week.
Both critics prefer other accessories, such as the SpaceNavigator, a 3D mouse that doesn't require one to wave ones arms about quite so much.
One of the critiques is that the user has to learn specific types of gestures to make the controller work properly, and that this process isn't quick or intuitive. While device uses infrared light to track any motion of your fingers and hands, it only recognizes specific movements.
Video demos of its integration with Google Earth
Last week, the company uploaded a more detailed walk-through of how the Leap Motion integrates with Google Earth. See this one-minute demo, below. in which it says a smooth experience with Google Earth is easy to achieve.
If the critics are right and the need to make hand gestures for hours on end is tiring, maybe the future won't turn out the way Steven Spielberg thought it might.