Hate the Windows 8 touch UI? Try Kinect-like finger shaking instead
Game console tech to stop punters fondling the screen
Microsoft is pushing hard to promote Windows 8: its first operating system to let you point, swipe and prod your way through desktop applications and actions - quite possibly without the need for a touchscreen or mouse, thanks to gesture-sensing tech.
Windows 8 will be built for x86 and ARM compatible processors. On the Intel architecture, users will be able to touch the new modern desktop interface as well as use traditional mouse and keyboard to operate the computer. On ARM-powered gadgets, Windows 8 RT is all touch.
Planned Win 8 laptops and folding slabs that feature touchscreens must have sturdy wobble-free displays if they are going to win over punters.
There is another option: mid-air gestures detected by a camera fitted to the machine. Your fingers won't have to make contact with the screen. Instead your digits slice through and poke at the space between you and the PC, and software translates the movements into commands and actions. That’s where companies including eyeSight hope to cash in: the touch-free biz is working with manufacturers to install its gesture-recognition code on PCs and tablets running Windows 8.
eyeSight is a 32-person Israeli company founded in 2005, and its software runs on Windows, Google's mobile operating system Android and Apple's iOS. Even if the user prefers to use the usual Windows desktop interface, rather than Microsoft's new touch-friendly modern design , the mid-air input system should still be effective in controlling applications, according to the company's boss.
'My gut feeling is most Windows 8 users after a while will go with the classic interface' - eyeSight CEO Gideon Shmuel
“My gut feeling is most [desktop] Windows 8 users after a while will go with the classic Windows user interface,” chief executive Gideon Shmuel told us at the Touch, Gesture Motion Conference  in London on Wednesday. “The new UI is cool, but do I need it all the time? If I'm working on PowerPoint I will go to my familiar PowerPoint.”
Shmuel reckons Windows 8 will actually boost the uptake of finger-waving control – the type of input system Microsoft perfected for its XBox games console: the Kinect hands-free controller. “Gesture will help Windows 8 because it will be a great experience to activate it,” Shmuel said.
eyeSight is also working with chip giants Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia to support Windows RT-compatible tablets. Shmuel claims to have seen a number of models that are either all touchscreen or sport a screen-and-keyboard combination. One is about the size of a Lenovo IdeaPad with a screen that flips back to become a touch-based tablet. This sounds rather like the devices announced by HP, Dell and Sony last month, or Microsoft’s laptop-cum-slab Surface specification, but Shmuel isn’t naming names.
eyeSight's gesture and facial recognition software is available to ARM-powered devices such as the Pantech Sirius Sky smartphone. Also, it is due to announce gesture recognition for an ARM-powered set-top box – but Shmuel wouldn’t say who is making the devices. This means very soon viewers will be able to swipe their way by hand through the internet, games, films and programmes in front of their tellies and dump the remote.
“On some devices, gesture is a must. On the Android set-top box it's a must: the remote isn't enough,” he says.
Touch is now so common, manufacturers are turning to gesture to differentiate their products from rival offerings. “What we’ve seen from the component makers and the OEMs [computer manufacturers] is they are looking for new user experiences on Windows 8,” Shmuel says. “OEMs are looking at our tech because they are worried, they want to do something that different on the UI that you don't get in a tablet.”
eyeSight’s driver software sits just above the hardware and is fired up like a user would enable a Wi-Fi connection: it follows your movements via the device’s camera, and works with existing apps such as Microsoft PowerPoint and media players.
eyeSight’s CEO said his company's technology is ideal for ebook readers, tablets and other modern handheld gadgets - provided the built-in camera hardware can deliver 24 to 30 frames per second of video to the gesture-recognition software.
It all rests on whether or not applications can be practically controlled by finger jousting, so people can be truly comfortable with dropping the mouse and swiping at the air like a crazy person batting away invisible flies or turning the dial on an invisible safe.
This is going to require training for users and plenty of work by app and UI designers. “Obviously I’m biased, but I feel if you have a good experience, and it's a time-saving experience, then people will adopt it very quickly,” Shmuel said. ®