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Leap Motion and the Future of Gestural Search

Rachel Pasqua
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Tom Cruise in Minority Report

When the Leap Motion Controller debuted to the general public this past spring, response was lukewarm at best. Tech journalists grudgingly admitted it might be cool for gaming, if nothing else.

Among average consumers, the awareness was and remains next to zero. Mention Leap Motion and the response is likely to be "Leap what?" and, once you have explained, "you mean like Tom Cruise in Minority Report?".

Only the most hard-core design and tech nerds seemed to see the potential. But with the release of HP's new ENVY17 laptop, all that is about to change.

It's understandable that Leap didn't make a big splash at first.

The introduction of the product was fairly stealthy and promotional efforts were clearly targeted towards the designer and developer community, the people most likely to tinker with the SDK and come up with ideas for using the platform. This wasn't a bad strategy. After all, the initial success of the iPhone was due in no small part to the legions of Apple fanboys eager to fill up the AppStore with their ideas.

So far though, Leap Motion's AirSpace store boasts only a little over 100 applications creating a chicken/egg scenario for the product as it attempts to take off in earnest.

In order for people to adapt to Leap and to the concept of gestural interfaces in general, there needs to be applications that make gestural navigation fun and useful. And, of course, the functionality needs to be integrated into multiple device platforms.

The hardware integration is coming; the HP Envy laptop is just the beginning. Expect to see Leap navigation built into kiosks, connected televisions, gaming systems, kiosks and digital out of home displays everywhere you look within the next year.

There's little doubt that once the functionality is there, the developer community will explode with ideas, and many of these will be search-centric in nature. For example:

Wayfinding and Information Retrieval in Public Places

Hotels, airports, malls, and other public spaces will benefit from enabling visitors to manipulate and navigate large-format map display from a distance, zooming in and out on details and changing orientation simply by pointing.

Interactive Campaigns

Marketing campaigns delivered via large-format digital signage will become much more interactive by virtue of gestural sensitivity. Imagine the benefits of consumers being able to click through videos and images, play games, search through content etc. all while remaining at a distance and without requiring physical contact with screen.

The current Leap Motion hardware has a limit of roughly 8 cubic feet but over time, hardware limitations will no doubt extend to greater distances which will extend this capability to even bigger versions digital signage such as city billboards, sports arena jumbotrons, and even movie screens.

Business Presenting

First, there's the obvious benefit of doing away with the PowerPoint clicker once and for all. Now you'll just be able to point! But the uses of gestural navigation in presentation scenarios actually has much richer potential.

In internal business meetings, the ability to change and manipulate elements on the fly will make for more collaborative and dynamic workflows.

In formal, public scenarios, the enhanced ability to interact with one's content, unencumbered by ancillary hardware promises to add to the presenter's sense of ease and comfort in sharing their material.

Television

TV is probably the most obvious use case because who wouldn't love to get rid of their remote control? But while flicking through your channel selections by hand from the sofa is compelling for consumers, there's even more potential for brands.

We know that many consumers are watching television with smartphones and tablets in hand but the integration of gestural interactivity is the catalyst that will break through the fourth wall into our living rooms.

When you can Like or +1 a product directly within a commercial, click to get info, click to buy – by hand, at the spur of the moment, without getting up or picking up another device – we'll have truly realized the potential of interactive television.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, few of these scenarios are right around the corner. There are hardware and integration limitations to address, little usability hurdles and major privacy issues that will need to be thought out for many use cases.

For example, it's all well and good that you can point to Like a product on a billboard several feet away but how will you log in to your account on a screen that all can see? Most likely some form of location and/or hardware based authentication will occur with the Leap-enabled interface verifying your identity via an app on your phone, smartwatch, Google Glasses, etc.

But these are barriers that will be surmounted before long. Leap is just the beginning.


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