Imagine sitting down at your desk in the morning and having your computer automatically power up, recognize you and log into your desktop. From there, you can swipe from app to app using your hands - not on a touchscreen, but by moving your hands naturally through the air. Unlike the mouse of yesteryear, your machine recognizes gestures in 3D space and you can manipulate things on the screen using your fingers, selecting photos from a 3D gallery or even browsing the Web.
None of the technology described above is new, but it could be coming to personal computers over the next few years, if a recent patent filing from Apple is any indication.
The patent, titled "Three Dimensional Imaging and Display System", looks a lot like what owners of the XBox 360 can already do using the Kinect add-on for the gaming and entertainment console. The hardware could recognize and track human bodies sitting in front of it, and possibly even include facial recognition technology, something that is already being experimented with as a way to unlock mobile phones.
The system would enable people to control their computer with hand gestures, manipulating on-screen virtual control buttons and knobs and navigating through documents and information in 3D. This may well be in concert with other new human-machine interface methods like on screen multitouch and voice control. Apple hasn't said whether they plan on integrating Siri with other products, but if its trial run on the iPhone goes well, we can't imagine why they wouldn't.
In its typical fashion, Apple is not exactly innovating here. Oblong Industries is just one company who specializes in 3D gesture-controlled computing. If all of this sounds reminiscent of the movie Minitory Report it's no mistake. One of the company's founders actually designed one of the UIs Tom Cruise uses in the movie.
Rather than being the first to implement the technology, Apple may do what Apple typically does and simply manage to package it in a consumer-friendly, well-designed fashion and then help popularize its use on personal computers.
The significance here is less about Apple doing some new and cool and more about where human-machine interactions are heading in the future.