3D Gestures for Mobile Devices: IK Multimedia’s iRing

Here’s an inexpensive new product that promises hours of fun for musicians of all types – but it might also point the way to 3D interfaces for mobile devices.

IK Multimedia is one of the most creative and innovative firms on the planet in the area of software, hardware interfaces, and related tools for musicians. I’ve reviewed a number of their products over the years for Network World’s annual Holiday Gift Guide, and I know many of you out there, like me, are musicians, at least in your spare time. Even if you’re not, though, I hope you’ll stick with me here. I’m going to introduce you to IK Multimedia’s latest, the iRing Motion Controller for iOS devices.

Yes, it’s a fun toy and/or tool for making music, but the potential for this very simple product is in fact much greater.

The first thing that you notice about the iRing is that it’s not a ring. Rather, it’s a two-sided device that actually fits between two fingers; I’m sure they designed it this way because a real ring would require sizing. One side has three dots arranged in a triangle, and the other side has the three dots in a line. It works by using the camera in iOS devices to recognize the pattern of dots and track them in three dimensions. The effective operating range of the Z-axis is surprisingly large – it’s speced at up to 70 cm (2.29 feet) for the front camera, and up to 150 cm (4.92 feet) for the rear camera. The iRing is simple, clever, and fun – and it has applications well beyond music alone.

But, with respect to those musical applications, I tried the included iRing Music Maker app, which is fun but not really all that intuitive. There’s also an FX/Controller app (also free with the iRing) for effects and MIDI control – DJs (and many others) will love this. What I think would have made a really good demo, however, would be a software emulation of a Theramin or similar device. Anyway, that’s really my point here – the potential for the iRing extends far beyond what’s available in mobile UIs today.

OK, not everyone is going to find the music apps of interest. But the primary reason for my bringing the iRing to your attention is its potential applicability to 3D user interfaces, particularly on mobile devices. My adventures in 3D input began over two decades ago, when I used a device called the SpaceBall (a similar product, the SpaceMouse, is today available) to manipulate 3D graphical objects. Microsoft’s Kinect is very popular with gamers. More recently, we’ve been hearing a good deal about 3D from a display perspective – 3D TV, of course, the possible inclusion of 3D displays in future mobile devices, Amazon’s new handset, and more. But a GUI that adds a third dimension to mobile applications could be very interesting indeed, from simple file browsing to scaling windows to zooming video to the limits of our creativity. And what about security? A "smart" iRing (with a unique ID) could be used as the something-you-have element in a two-factor authentication scheme, and having to solve a simple 3D challenge in a particular way would be pretty secure.

The iRing is a low-cost candidate for these examples, and, I’m sure, many more. Give the iRing a try – it’s US$24.99 (for two), and there’s a free SDK available if you really want to get your fingers dirty. I think you’ll be as intrigued as I am.

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