About a year ago, I saw the demo for the Leap Motion controller and I ordered one. I wasn’t even sure how I’d use such a device but the idea of a control surface in the air in front of my Mac intrigued me so much that I parted with $80 anyway. When it arrived last week I was feeling a lot more sheepish about that expenditure as I looked through Leap’s Airspace store. It looks like there are some clever games and demonstration-type software, allowing you to dissect a virtual frog for instance, but nothing really grabbed me. Then Don McAllister told me Better Touch Tool has Leap support. Now we are talking.
If you haven’t downloaded Better Touch Tool yet, go do it right now. BTT is the result of a lot of hard work by Andreas Hegenberg. It’s free but Andreas accepts donations. You will end up giving Andreas some money because this application is really useful. Better Touch Tool lets you customize the touch pad with, for lack of a better word, finger macros to let you pull off more than Apple thinks you should with your trackpad and magic mouse. For instance if I rest my index and fourth finger on the trackpad and tap with my middle finger, it closes the application currently under the mouse. (This even works in Mission Control view.) If I rest my third and fourth fingers on the trackpad and tap with my index finger, it triggers ⌘-W, which closes the active window. (This is great for closing out Safari tabs.)
As you can tell. I already have a lot of affection for Better Touch Tool and Leap controller functionality is icing on the cake. So I’ve spent some time playing with this new feature and I’ve now got several gestures I can do in the air in front of my Mac. If I put one finger in the air and move it up, it closes the application, just like the gesture in iOS 7. If I put one finger in the air and pull it down, it closes the window just like my gestures I explained earlier on my trackpad. If I put two fingers in the air and swiped the left, I move right one space. Putting two fingers in the air and swiping to the right moves back one space to the left. All of this is a lot of fun. I’m only adding new gestures as I internalize the prior ones.
The process of taking my hands off the keyboard to wave them in the air to perform a gesture which I could do just as easily with keyboard shortcut, however, seems counterproductive. This is part where the Leap controller starts feeling like a novelty device. There are, however, times that I sit in front of my computer and I don’t have my hands on the keyboard. For instance, when I dictate. I’ve got a keyboard shortcut across all of my Macs that toggles the mic on and off in Dragon dictate, which is Control-Option-Command-M. It is easy to trigger when my hands are on the keyboard. But when I’m dictating my hands aren’t on the keyboard and the process of getting situated on the keyboard and finding the right keys takes time. So now I have a Leap gesture (two fingers up) that presses the magic key combination and turns my mic off or back on again. It’s more intuitive while dictating and faster. I’m also going to set one up to mute my mic while podcasting.
There is an artform to activating these leap gestures in Better Touch Tool. You can’t simply flick your wrist and expect it to pick up your finger movements. Instead you need to use your whole arm. I can see how that would get tiresome but the contexts that I’m using this in are infrequent and I’m not going to be spending hours manipulating my computer Minority Report style.
I don’t see the Leap technology replacing my mouse and trackpad but I do see it as an enhancement to them. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use the Leap controller when it makes sense and ignore it when it doesn’t. I don’t regret purchasing this Leap device and I’m looking forward to seeing where this all goes.