3D Mac interfaces
Gary Marshall goes panning in the river of rumour for nuggets of knowledge
In fiction, there’s a device called Chekhov’s Gun: if you say in chapter one that there’s a gun in the room, Chekhov wrote, “it absolutely must go off.” There’s a similar thing with Apple acquisitions. If Apple buys it, it’ll absolutely use it. And that brings us to PrimeSense, the Israeli 3D sensor firm Apple acquired in 2013.
You might not know the company, but you know the Kinect motion sensor it helped develop for Mircosoft. It makes a range of 3D sensors, and those sensors can detect movement not just for games, but for any application that needs to know what somebody’s doing. For example, one PrimeSense-powered system knows which cereal a shopper is reaching for on a shelf and displays appropriate advertising or offers on a nearby iPad (iBeacon-esque?).
The really interesting thing about PrimeSense is that as its sensors have become smarter, they’ve also become smaller and much, much cheaper. As one pundit put it: “What was recently the size of a guitar case and the cost of a Smart car, will soon be about the size of a stick of gum.” Cheap enough and small enough to stick in an Apple TV?
We know the Apple TV is being positioned as a HomeKit hub. Imagine if its interface wasn’t through the remote, but through a combination of Siri and PrimeSense sensors. That ties in quite neatly with US Patent No. 8,933,876, in which Apple details “three dimensional user interface session control” – that is, controlling a device by waving and pointing. That device might be your Apple TV, or your iMac. Or it might be a sensor in your house that connects to them via HomeKit.
That’s not all. In Patent No. 8,959,013, Apple filed details of using 3D sensors to make a virtual keyboard on any surface based on an existing PrimeSense patent. And in Patent No. 8,514,221 it described a graphical interface that enabled users to manipulate 3D objects using three dimensional gestures above what looks an awful lot like an iPad. Think pinching and pulling but in three dimensions instead of two.
Remember Tim Cook’s quote? “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.” Apple filed its 3D patent in 2011. It bought PrimeSense two years later. 3D input looks awfully like a Chekhov’s Gun to us.
Apple’s patent describes how a device could use a combination of motion tracking and 3D modelling to respond to people’s movement.