While everyone dreams of voice control, Fibaro's newly announced Swipe will command the smart home with something else: hand gestures. Swipe is releasing in the US ($150) and the UK (about £100) at the end of January and in Australia (approx. AU$208) later this year, and it looks a little like a tablet -- it's a 5-by-7-inch pad. Instead of a touchscreen, though, Swipe uses 3D Near-Field motion identification technology to sense and respond to hand gestures.
The two big questions with a gadget like Swipe are "Does it work?" and "What does it work with?"
Here's what we know already: Swipe can identify and respond to six distinct gestures: four directional swipes (up, down, left, right), and two circular motions (left, right). Each motion or combination of motions will activate a preset scene or command -- for instance, swiping "right" could turn on the radio, "up" could turn up the volume, "down" could turn it down, and "left" could turn it off. One simple swipe could also issue multiple commands at once, like turning on your lights and your TV.
Swipe can also blend into your home pretty well. You can fit a picture into it like a frame, hang it on a wall, or even install it under a kitchen counter. Since it's using Near-Field scanning technology, obstructions like countertops or even drywall won't inhibit its functionality. This is a pretty cool feature, and installing it inside a wall would make it a sort of invisible light switch with expanded capabilities.
Fibaro isn't the first company to have the idea to turn your hand into a remote; Singlecue introduced users to channel surfing with Jedi-like hand waves. But Fibaro hopes to broaden its uses to include more than controlling entertainment systems. Swipe, ideally, would control your home.
For this kind of gadget, success often depends on how intuitive it feels, which we can't know till we get our hands on one. The most notable shortcoming right now is that you have to gesture right in front of the pad itself. That means no control from across the room, like with Singlecue. Simply put, this is a problem.
That said, Swipe does have potential. My personal standard for smart home efficiency is, "Is it easier than flipping the light switch?" Too many smart home products answer, "No." But if Swipe can turn off my lights and lock my doors with a single gesture, it could very well reach my standard.
Fibaro's new device is built to administrate other gadgets, so I really want to know what it works with. Sadly, it uses only the Z-Wave radio frequency. That means instead of employing multiple frequencies and a Wi-Fi shift to ensure communication with as many devices as possible, Swipe will work only with Z-Wave devices and hubs -- a disappointment, since its compatibility will be restricted because of this.
After working with apps that constantly require usernames and passwords, Swipe's simple interface really appeals to me. But as voice control grows and develops, I wonder if a pad that requires you to stand right in front of it will cut it for much longer. And the $150 price tag doesn't help matters. Hopefully, if the usability really impresses and if the partnerships continue to grow, Swipe will be a helpful tool for easing access to some otherwise clunky smart home technology.