HP Hopes Leap Motion’s Hand-Gesture Controls Help Revive the PC

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Leap Motion’s computer accessory allows users to control a computer by waving their fingers and hands.

Personal-computer sales have fallen through the floor as people spend more time on mobile devices. The world’s largest PC maker is trying to lure some buyers back with an unusual new way to control their machines.

Hewlett-Packard is partnering with Leap Motion, the San Francisco-based startup that has developed a gadget allowing people to navigate their computers using gestures such as the turn of the hand or flick of a finger. After flip-flopping over whether to sell off its PC division in 2011, HP hopes finger wags will help breathe new life into a stalling product category.

This summer, HP will start bundling Leap Motion’s product, a cigarette-lighter sized device that sits on a computer desk and uses small cameras to detect subtle movements, together with some PC models. HP is also developing new computers that will have Leap’s technology embedded directly, without the need for a separate peripheral, the startup said today.

HP has turned to other companies in the past as it looked for ways to differentiate itself in the crowded PC market. In 2009, it struck a deal with Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics, which makes designer headphones, that included an extensive marketing campaign.

Right now, the PC industry needs to turn up the volume more than ever. In the first three months of 2013, global PC sales fell 14 percent, the worst decline on record, according to industry researcher IDC. Microsoft’s Windows 8 doesn’t appear to be helping.

Leap Motion pitches itself as a white knight ready to ride in and save the day. The startup already has a similar deal in place with Asustek Computer.

“The PC market isn’t going anywhere,” Andy Miller, Leap Motion’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. “It’s massive.”

Leap Motion will begin selling its gadget separately next month. The company has raised $44.1 million since 2011 from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund. (Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg.com, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.)

While Leap Motion is starting with computers, it’s not getting hitched. The technology is expected to be tailored to other gadgets in the future, Miller said. “You’ll see this product in tablets, smartphones, TVs, remote controls and who knows what else.”

It could find its way into more PCs, too — if anyone is still buying them.

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