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Startup to bring touchless gesture control tech to iOS

PointGrab, an Israeli company whose technology is already integrated into Windows 8 and Android devices, will let developers build apps integrating the system into Apple's mobile platform.

PointGrab's touchless gesture control technology is coming to iOS next month. PointGrab

LAS VEGAS--Touchless gesture control may soon be possible on Apple's iOS devices, thanks to a startup that will be releasing a software development kit enabling the technology.

For some time, Israeli company PointGrab has been making its technology -- which allows users to control activity onscreen with little more than a wave of the hand -- available on a series of platforms, namely Windows 8, Android, and Linux. And next month, Apple's iOS will join the party.

In a demo at CES here today, Assaf Gad, PointGrab vice president of marketing and product, showed CNET how the technology can work on an iPad. And while the demo -- in which he was able to get the tablet to snap a photo of him without touching it -- is a very minimal implementation, it is just the beginning.

PointGrab is just one company in the touchless gesture control space. Others include Leap Motion, which has developed a camera-based system that measures users' movements to an accuracy of a hundredth of a millimeter, Elliptic Labs, which uses ultrasound to measure people's gestures, and of course, Microsoft with its Kinect, which uses a 3D camera system to detect body movement.

Each technology is a bit different, and solves a slightly different problem. Leap Motion is meant to allow extremely accurate touchless control at a range of up to 4 feet, while Kinect is meant more for stand-up gaming and other applications. And Elliptic Labs is good at detecting motion even to the side of the screen.

By comparison, PointGrab's technology works on any device -- including TVs -- with a simple 2D camera, and can work at any distance between 3 inches and 17 feet. With a library of nearly two dozen gestures, users can do things like mute sound, raise or lower audio volume, select icons, and change channels.

PointGrab's model is to license its software to device makers, and to let developers use an SDK to build applications using the technology. So while it's too early to know how iOS developers will integrate PointGrab's system into their apps, one can imagine quite a few possible uses, such as controlling games, taking photos, playing music, and so on.

Gad also said that the future of the technology may well include being integrated into a number of home appliances. For example, air conditioners, lights, heaters, or other appliances could be controlled from across a room simply by making appropriate gestures. Of course, this would require appliance makers to build cameras into their products, and no one knows if that's something consumers want.