Poor OS X. It doesn’t have Siri, even though it does have Siri’s voice detection. It doesn’t support any Minority Report-style gestures like Microsoft’s Kinect, even though it does have great touchpad gestures. It’s filled with great features, just none of those headline-grabbing features that make it look like something from the future.
It’s the App Store to the rescue again, this time with a little free menubar app named Flutter. It promises to bring some Kinect-style gestures to your Mac’s music apps, so you can walk up to your Mac, motion to start the music playing, and silence all the doubters saying that OS X isn’t the cool kid anymore.
Flutter, the app
Several days ago, I stumbled across Flutter in the App Store. It wasn’t brand new, but it was new to me, and I figured many of you likely haven’t tried it out. From the icon, you’d assume it might be a comic book app, and the first time you launch it, you might assume you were right.
Now, Flutter might make you look comical when you’re trying to use it. I won’t guarantee against that. What I can gurantee is that Flutter is a lot of fun to use.
See, Flutter is a little app that lets you control your music in iTunes, Quicktime, Spotify, and VLC using 3 simple hand motions. Hold your hand up to start or pause your music, or hold your fist with your thumb to the left or right to go back and forth, respectively, in your playlist. That’s actually all it does, but it actually does it good, and that’s whats impressive.
To start out, you’ll run through a quick tutorial that’ll help you get used to using the gestures. Just hold your hand up, thumb slightly pointing out, and you’ll skip to the next slide. Then, you’ll hold your thumb to the left and right, and skip through those sides. You’re now ready to put your newly learned skills to use playing music.
If you decide you don’t want to have your webcam on, or just want to refresh your memory on the gestures, there’s the handy Flutter menubar app to your rescue. One nice thing is that you can just turn the camera off and keep the app running, if you want, so you can save battery while you’re out through the day, and quickly get back to using it that evening when you need some music around the kitchen.
Putting Flutter to Use
So how does it really work? Not perfect. But really, it’s pretty good at recognizing the hand motions. For an app that runs with just your built-in web cam and doesn’t really tax your Mac that bad (it uses about 12% of the processor time on my 2012 MacBook Air, but never was enough to kick in the fan in normal use), it did far better than I expected.
Funny tying is, you’ll likely not be impressed if you try it out sitting down at your desk with earbuds on. Try unplugging your earbuds and scoot back a bit , then try out the gestures. I found they worked much better if I was about 3 feet away from my MacBook. It worked almost perfectly just walking up and holding up my hand to stop music, but was less likely to work if I held my hand up straight from the keyboard.
That makes it especially great for movie night. Just open a movie in iTunes, Quicktime, or VLC, set your Mac on the coffee table, and lean back on the couch to enjoy. Better yet, have your video streamed to your TV with an Apple TV and AirPlay Mirroring. Then, when you’ve got to pause the movie to grab more popcorn or answer the phone, just hold your hand up to tell your Mac to wait. That feels like the future (well, the future would really be when your Mac knew you were watching a movie and sent your calls straight to voicemail, and then would keep you from seeing the voicemail until the next morning. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.).
For now, that’s really all you can do with Flutter: pause, play, and skip through your music with hand gestures. The exciting thing is, the Flutter team promises more to come. They plan to support more apps, such as Keynote (imagine standing, facing your MacBook, and gesturing to switch slides during a presentation rather than holding a remote), and also plan to support web apps such as Youtube. They also plan to add more gestures, such as volume up and down controls and mute. That should make it even more cool, and if they continue improving the gesture detection in the mean time, it could become a serious tool.
For now, it’s more fun than anything. There’s a reason it’s in the Entertainment category of the App Store instead of the Productivity category. But still, it’s fun to use, and that’s hardly a bad thing.
So, is Flutter perfect? Nope. Is it the easiest way to control iTunes? Likely not. But is it the coolest way to control music on your Mac? Absolutely.
Go grab it from the App Store, take a few minutes and figure out the gestures, then call someone else into the room. Then hold your hand out to your Mac, and start your music playing. Chances are, the first thing you’ll hear is “Cool”.
Yup. The Mac is cool again.