Put your hands in the air—Intel has made another major push into the world of touch-free computing. The chip maker confirmed on Tuesday that it bought Israel-based Omek Interactive, a gesture-recognition firm. Omek (which means ‘depth’ in Hebrew) offers gesture-recognition products for computer and software makers that can track full-body movements as well as finer detail hand and finger gestures.
A successful perceptual computing push could add a flood of new user experiences to the PC and give the desktop a new cool factor that pushes people to snap up PCs capable of using the new features. “Intel wants to be leading the industry in the next generation of device interaction,” says Patrick Moorhead, Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. “[The Omek] acquisition adds to a collection of perceptual computing technologies owned by Intel. Additionally, these technologies soak up a lot of computing resources, which is good for the company.”
But don’t count on seeing a flood of perceptual computing applications just yet. “It’s going to take several years for this technology to spread as processing power improves, and gesture libraries further mature and develop,” says IDC’s Michael J. Palma, research manager for consumer semiconductor and electronics manufacturing (IDC and PCWorld are both owned by International Data Group). Palma doesn’t expect to see perceptual computing go mainstream for at least another two to four years.
Plans in motion
Perceptual computing may not be mainstream yet, but chances are anyone with a newer PC already has the equipment to take advantage of some of Intel’s gesture-filled platform. For example, PCs with at least a second-generation Sandy Bridge Core processor should be able to take advantage of applications built with Intel’s perceptual computing SDK.
But will you want to use it? Users have yet to embrace new ways of interacting with their computers beyond the traditional mouse and keyboard. PCs powered by Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS, for example, have not really succeeded in bringing touch to the desktop. In fact, with a new boot-to-desktop feature coming to Windows 8.1 following user outcry, it’s arguable that touch on the PC has failed to even augment the traditional mouse and keyboard set-up.
Gesture recognition and facial tracking looks really cool in the movies, but can it succeed on the desktop? “Touchscreens on PCs are a little awkward,” says IDC’s Palma, who argues that a gesture-filled future would be more compelling. Instead of having to reach out and put your hands all over your PC display, a quick flick of your finger or hand gesture in mid-air offers an easier and more immersive experience.
Perceptual computing has been a longstanding interest for Microsoft. As early as 2010, the company was rumored to be looking at facial recognition and eye-tracking technologies to play a big role in Windows 8. The rumored features didn’t end up making the cut. Now with Intel pushing its perceptual computing game, the two companies may end up as competitors in the emerging world of gesture and facial recognition interaction for PCs.
“There is a battle brewing between Microsoft and Intel in air gesture technologies,” Moorhead says. “And this acquisition is yet another proof point of that war.”
Even if Microsoft and Intel end up competing hard over perceptual computing, with Intel trying to differentiate its tech from Kinect, the battle could help popularize the technology. “Overall, the critical issue for [perceptual computing] is developing the software community to take advantage of it,” says Palma. “The more companies involved, the more brains involved in figuring out how to develop this technology. That creates value in the tech itself, and raises priorities in buyer’s mind.”
Smile and wave, folks: In a few years every PC you own may be watching you.
Agam Shah of IDG News Service contributed to this report.
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Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.