Will gesture controls replace your mouse and keyboard?

Gesture control devices such as Waterloo, Ont.-based Thalmic Labs' Myo armband have been making headlines. But will we really soon be waving our hands at our computers instead of typing or clicking a mouse button?

Researcher Daniel Vogel and designer Jonty Sharples weigh in

In February, Waterloo, Ont.-based startup Thalmic Labs launched an armband that lets you control your computer or tablet with a wave of your hand or a snap of your fingers. Its first batch of 25,000 pre-orders of the $149 device sold out in just a month.

This week, Hewlett-Packard announced that it is bundling San Francisco-based Leap Motion's gesture-controller with some personal computers starting later this year.

But are gesture controls about to replace the keyboard and mouse as the way we interact with our computers?

Not fully, predicts Daniel Vogel, who researchers human-computer interactions at the University of Waterloo. He thinks it's unlikely that gestural computing will ever be appropriate for word processing or online banking.

But he envisions a near future where computers aren't just on our desks or in our pockets. They will also be all around us, "embedded in windows or embedded on ceilings or floors," he told CBC's Spark in an interview set to air Sunday. "Here, carrying around a keyboard and mouse is probably not a really good solution."

Thalmic Labs co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake shows off a prototype of the Myo gesture control armband. The company sold out its first batch of 25,000 pre-orders in a month. (Thalmic Labs)

Nor do touch-screen controls work in the case of something like a ceiling, he said.

He suspects the gesture controls of the future won't look like hand waving, but will be more subtle motions that "basically aren't as tiring and don't look as silly," such as turning towards or away from a computerized wall or putting a hand in a pocket.

Nevertheless, when asked if gestural control such as Myo and Leap Motion's device are ready for prime time, Vogel said he thinks they are. He noted that many are targeted at very particular scenarios. For example, Thalmic's promotional video shows Myo in use by a skier coursing down a mountain run.

"The technology's been around for quite some time," he added. "I think now it's about miniaturization and usability."

Jonty Sharples, a user experience designer at Albion, a creative innovation agency in London, England, has a different opinion.

Sharples told Spark he thinks devices still need to get smaller and more accurate to be able to capture small motions, such as those made by your fingertips.

"Where we are with gestural today is not where I would hope it would be," he said.