Microsoft's push to a touch-centric user experience in Windows 8, inspired in part by the tile-based Metro UI developed for its Windows Phone operating system, may not be driving the sale of touch-screens for desktops - but it's certainly making developers think about other ways to deal with human-machine interaction.
Earlier this week Leap Motion demonstrated its eponymous finger-tracking technology
being used on a Windows 8 machine to great effect. While the company may have missed every deadline it has ever set itself
, indications are that the device is going to be hitting the market very soon - but when it does, it won't be alone.
PointGrab looks to offer similar technology to Leap Motion, but in a software-only system that allows for gesture recognition using nothing more than a cheap, medium-resolution webcam - such as those already built into the vast majority of laptops on the market today. While not reaching anywhere near the sub-millimetre precision of Leap Motion - the system is designed to track hands, rather than individual fingers, at a range of up to five metres from the device - it does have the advantage of being accessible without the need to buy any dedicated hardware.
Founded in 2008, Isreali PointGrab has enjoyed niche success with its product: compatible with Android, Linux, Windows 7 and now Windows 8 and Windows RT, the software has already been picked up by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs.) First hitting the market in 2010, one of the company's biggest partners is Samsung which uses PointGrab's technology to bring gesture recognition - or what the company itself terms 'Natural User Interface' technology - to its most recent range of Smart TVs.
Since the launch of Windows 8, however, the company has been heavily pushing for users to experience the Modern UI in a finger-friendly fashion without the need to splash out on a touch-screen. The company's self-promotional video demonstrates its capabilities, running on Intel's Ultrabook platform devices, and while cheesy in the extreme it certainly helps make sense of Microsoft's tile-based Start Screen while also introducing a few tricks of its own - like allowing the user to mute a video simply by making a 'shush' gesture towards the camera.
The company already boasts of almost 10 million consumer devices in its roster, from the aforementioned Samsung TVs to products from Acer and Fujitsu - but, strangely, will not be releasing its software as a stand-alone product. Instead, the company has indicated its desire to continue to work with OEMs to integrate PointGrab technology into their devices - meaning those who want to retrofit gesture control into existing PCs will be left splashing out on a hardware-based solution like Leap Motion.
What PointGrab's success does show, however, is that there is increasing interest in gesture control - and the low cost of entry for the software-based system means that it's likely we'll be seeing an increasing number of devices launching with the technology in the near future, despite Microsoft's promise to improve the mouse-based experience
in Windows 8.1.
If you're curious as to how the system performance, PointGrab's video is below - but before settling down to watch it, you may want to grab some wine to go with the copious volume of cheese on offer.