For the past few weeks, I’ve been developing a nasty habit of touching the screen on my MacBook Air. It’s likely due to overusing my iPad, but whatever the reason is, one thing is clear: The current state of interaction is broken. Hopefully with the introduction of Leap, that will change.
Some companies are straightforward to explain, but others are better understood when demoed. I recommend watching the video below, but for those that can’t, the brief one-liner is that Leap gives users a way to interact directly with any computer screen using all ten fingers, in 3D space. It is clearer when seen:
The immediate reaction for most is “drool.” When I showed it to our Managing Editor Nathan Pensky, the reaction was simply, “Whaaaaaat?” It is the sort of technology that is so obvious and natural, that everyone immediately sees the value in it.
Leap is the brainchild of co-founders Michael Buckwald and David Holz, who have been working on the product for months now. Initially, the team was irritated that they could visualize 3D objects, but they couldn’t create them because of limited tools. “It is clear that computers are capable of this advanced computing,” says Buckwald, “but that we’ve been limiting ourselves.”
With Leap, the plan is to change this, as users can manipulate objects in real space. The system recognizes 10 points of interaction, and enables applications like 3D modeling and improves upon popular CAD applications. While it may seem like an advanced and intensive application for a computer to run, it is apparently no more difficult than any other peripheral, according to Buckwald.
One question I had for the company is why it isn’t going the Kickstarter route like most other hardware startups, and has instead raised over $14 million in funding. The big reason is that the company doesn’t see itself as a hardware startup, but instead sees itself as a software company that needs hardware for the code to execute upon. This is similar to how Steve Jobs saw Apple.
This focus on software puts the entire business model of the company in a different focus. According to Buckwald, the long-term plan is for the company to license the technology to OEMs, and make the majority of its profits off of third-party integrations. This would likely end up being the smartest market to enter, especially when compared to the $300 million Microsoft Kinect market — a fraction of the potential future interaction market.
The product is slated to launch later this year. The hardware has been finalized as of a month ago, and the team is fully focused on finishing the software and readying it for launch. The company is looking to make it easier for the Leap to work with existing applications and build off of code that works with stylii and touchscreens, simplifying the work developers need to do. However, the plan is to eventually open up the product to third-party developers via an SDK.
With the funding in place, the hardware finished, and a slow rollout over time, the product will likely be rather polished by the end of the year. In the meantime, for user experience junkies out there, there is a $70 limited pre-order form available on the company’s website.