Fingers-On: PointGrab Lets You Control Windows 8 With the Wave of a Hand

Right now, gesture control seems to be neither one of the most desired nor polished features offered in tech, especially among laptops. But PointGrab, principal purveyor of advanced hand gesture recognition software, aims to change this view. Last week, they visited our offices at LAPTOP Magazine and demonstrated their gesture control system on a number of platforms, including Windows 7 and Android, and in beta form for Windows 8 (and ultrabooks). How did it fare? Quite well, actually.

If the name PointGrab doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because the software has quietly rolled out as a preload on notebooks, Smart TVs, tablets, phones and other gadgets. And while some see gesture control as a superfluous features, we were rather impressed by PointGrab's implementation of the system during their demonstration. Perhaps the most interesting detail of all is how the company makes use of 2-D webcams as the main accessory for recognizing different gestures and their corresponding commands -- a ubiquitous piece of hardware that's built right into most devices, making it incredibly easy to integrate PointGrab's software into a machine.

Imagine holding up an open palm and having your computer system able to track your hand's motion for cursor control. Close your fist to click; close it twice to double-click; drag and drop by closing a fist, moving it across the screen and dropping the UI element at the desired spot; give your screen a thumbs-up and tilt it to the right to raise the volume, or tilt your thumb to the left to lower volume. These are just some of the basic things PointGrab does, among many more. The system even recognizes when you bring your hand closer to the screen or draw it away to zoom in and out. We were also told that OEMs have the ability to customize hand gestures and their corresponding commands for more flexibility.

There are Windows 8-exclusive features too, which isn't surprising given that the company's biggest announcement is its integration with many Windows 8 systems, including ultrabooks. On the new Microsoft OS, you'll be able to wave goodbye at your screen to close a Metro app, or wave right and left to move across the desktop screens.

We can see how these gestures would be extremely handy, especially if you stood some distance away from your display while doing things like playing music or watching videos. To that end, PointGrab has designed it so that their hand gesture control works up to 10 feet away on a Windows 7 OS, and even further on Windows 8.

Another potentially huge area of use for PointGrab is games. The company recognized this, showing off an Android tablet loaded up with the gesture control software and Angry Birds. We closed our fist, pulled it back, and released to fling some fuming feathered fowl at lazy packs of swine.

On the whole, gesture control is one feature in tech that's still considered to be in its nascent stages. PointGrab seems to be on the right track here, playing to shortcomings found in traditional desktop input methods. There's certainly a lot of potential in PointGrab's method too; but the question of whether it will eventually be adopted in the mainstream is something we'll be watching closely.