From App to Platform: Flutter Brings Motion Control to Windows
Every once in a while there's a new technology that gets your heart all a-flutter. Even more rarely a startup chooses the perfect name for pun-filled introductions. Flutter, a startup that uses webcams to interpret motions and perform actions without a single touch, has managed both.
Co-created by one of the leading authorities in computer vision and backed by Y Combinator, Flutter took the blogosphere by storm when it first released its motion-control utility for OS X. Not because it did a lot – it could only play or pause music in select applications – but because it worked well and represented a shift in the way we interact with our devices. The company has been hard at work to ship on new platforms, add new gestures, and make its core technologies available to developers.
First thing's first: Windows. Originally available exclusively on OS X, Flutter is now available to download on Windows machines. By shipping on the most popular desktop operating systems and requiring nothing besides a webcam, Flutter is poised to become a hot technology platform that changes the way everyone interacts with their machines. Co-founder Mehul Nariyawala says that Flutter should have as low a barrier to entry as possible, which explains the barebones requirements to run the software.
What about Mac users? Don't worry, Flutter hasn't forgotten about you. The company has been hard at work to introduce new gestures that are in various stages of development. A thumbs-up sign will, for example, "like" a track in whatever music platform you happen to be using. Flutter is also experimenting with a "shush" sign that would mute the music and swipe gestures that would skip through tracks.
Flutter is purposefully taking its time releasing new gestures. "We think it should only be a vocabulary of about 15 gestures that are consistent across devices," Nariyawala says. Because the platform will start operating outside of music-based applications, Flutter's team has really had to consider what gestures it introduces and how they work.
Take the thumbs-up, for example. While it's typically associated with a "like" (I think we all know who we have to thank for that) Nariyawala says that there's no reason why the gesture can't represent any affirmative action. A thumbs up could buy something from an ecommerce site, or rent a movie, or do any number of other "yes" actions. While the slow rollout of new gestures may limit Flutter's utility in the short-term, considering how everything will work as a cohesive whole will help the service have a lasting impact.
Now, part of my job is asking people what they think of their "competitors." Sometimes this ends poorly, and other times I'm surprised at how affable Silicon Valley seems to be towards potential rivals. To that end, I asked Nariyawala about Leap, the hardware and software combo that a PandoDaily staffer described as "Flutter on steroids" when the demo video was first released to the wild. Nariyawala is actually pleased with the way Leap is developing, saying that he thinks both can coexist without necessarily removing the other's functionality.
"Our approach and their approach are very complementary, because we are hardware agnostic," he says, before adding, "If and when [Leap] becomes ubiquitous, we'll get on [the platform]."
This openness and readiness to tinker with others' technology applies to Flutter's own product as well. A development SDK is being prepped for release later this year – there isn't a firm date set at this point – that will allow developers to use Flutter's motion-recognition technologies to create their own utilities.
Developing an SDK parallel to a consumer-facing product will allow Flutter to become a popular conversation piece among both laymen and developers alike. Even if developers don't make it clear that they're building on top of Leap's technology, Nariyawala and his team will have the satisfaction of knowing that they're changing the way people interact with their computers.
Flutter started as a simple utility that makes it easier to play and pause music without searching for the right window or fumbling with a mouse or trackpad. Today's announcements may take Flutter from being a utility that trades users' dignity (try watching yourself as you "shush" your computer once that particular gesture is available and let us know how you feel) for functionality into a multi-platform base for other developers to create new interaction paradigms.