leap_motion

Leap Motion is today announcing the release date of its eponymous gesture-tracking tool, which will be sold from both its online store and Best Buy. The device, which will retail for $79, will ship to customers who pre-ordered a unit on May 13. It will then be available to everyone else on May 19. A year after its demo video made Leap Motion the darling of the tech press, the device will finally make its way into customers’ hands.

So begins Leap Motion’s journey to becoming the Beats Audio of motion controls.

Asus announced that it would bundle Leap Motion’s gesture-based controls into future laptops and all-in-one PCs in January, making the standalone sensor bar unnecessary for compatible PCs. Leap Motion will maintain its brand — the company isn’t white-labeling its technology to Asus or other hardware partners — but consumers wouldn’t need to purchase a standalone device in order to benefit from the company’s platform.

“As a company, it’s very important for us to preserve the brand, and it’s very important for us to continue to build the developer ecosystem,” says Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald. “We don’t think that you’ll have to carry around a peripheral to interact with a computer in this way.”

Developers would still be building applications for Airspace, the Leap Motion-managed software marketplace, and customers would be made aware that they are using Leap Motion technology. The only difference would be Leap Motion shipping with the machine instead of as a separate product.

Beats Audio followed a similar path. It captured attention with its bright red cord and a prescription from the good Dr. Dre, but has since become something more than a celebrity-endorsed headset line. Both HP and HTC have used Beats Audio to differentiate their smartphones, tablets, and laptops from competitors’ offerings, turning the brand into a recognized platform that doesn’t need Bieber-designed (yes, really) headphones to help consumers rock out.

The sensor bar is simply a stepping stone for Leap Motion to enter the mainstream. That’s why the Best Buy deal is important, why the company raised $30 million from Highland Partners in January after a previous $12.75 million raise from Highland, Andreessen Horowitz, and Founders Fund (the latter two of which are managed by investors in PandoDaily), and why it formed a partnership with Asus.

Leap Motion doesn’t want to be a gimmick used to play Angry Birds with a pair of chopsticks (unless that’s what users really want, anyway). The company plans on changing the way people interact with their devices, from laptops and desktop PCs to tablets and smartphones. And in order to do that, the sensor bar has to disappear eventually.

So, yes, Leap Motion will be in consumers’ hands just a year after it sparked onto the scene. That the company managed to sell “hundreds of thousands” — Buckwald declined to clarify on the exact number — of its sensor bar in that time is impressive. But the sensor bar itself is merely a door-opener, a method of proving to the world that Leap Motion’s technology works. (Assuming, of course, that it does work.)

Consumers don’t have to purchase dedicated headphones to, as will.i.am might put it, rock with Beats. All they have to do is purchase a device with the Beats Audio logo stamped into its chassis. In the future, the same might be said of Leap Motion, except it will help consumers dance the “I’m living in the future!” boogy instead of pumpin’ the bass.