BumpTop brings 3D, physics to Mac desktop

Is this the desktop of the future, or just a toy?

Rafe Needleman
Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
3 min read

The creative and attractive desktop replacement app BumpTop is coming to the Mac. Launched last year on Windows, and a CNET Download Best of 2009 app, BumpTop makes desktop items act more like they're physical. You can fling folders, files, and notes around the desktop, smash them into each other, give them weight, and pin them on the 3D "walls" at the edges of your desktop.

The OS X version is an upgrade from the Windows app. The code's been re-written from the ground up, CEO Anand Agarawala says, and there are some UI tweaks that work really well with a Mac's multitouch trackpad.

I found the app entertaining, if a little claustrophobic on my 13-inch Macbook. On a larger Mac or a touch-screen device, I bet it'd be a lot of fun.

The basic app is free. The paid, Pro version has extra features, like support for all the gestures. The Pro version is a free upgrade to the first 100 people who sign up at this special page: http://bumptop.com/press/cnet.

BumpTop for OSX has the same features as the Windows version, but the UI is cleaned up a bit. BumpTop

The BumpTop business

But the interesting story here is the business for BumpTop. While a desktop replacement app like this might make a few bucks in onesie-twosie sales to enthusiasts, the real money is in direct deals with vendors. BumpTop has that on Windows: The new HP TouchSmart tm2 touch-screen convertible comes with BumpTop. Licensing deals like this are key to BumpTop's survival and success.

So why do a Mac version? Agarawala told me he has no deal with Apple. There's no upcoming Apple product that will have the BumpTop bundled with it. If you want the app on your Mac you'll have to find it and download it yourself. Furthermore, Apple has applied for its own patents on a 3D interface that look an awful lot like BumpTop's product. Apple's also a week away from the likely release of its own slate or tablet computer, which will quite possibly feature a user interface that draws from these ideas. Agarawala says his patent applications pre-date Apple's, but a legal battle with Apple over this issue would likely be a dangerous distraction for the small company.

The reason for the Mac version, Agarawala says, is that BumpTop ultimately will become a social platform and an online tool. In future versions, you'll be able to share documents among your computers simply by pinning them to the back wall. You'll also be able to join your desktop to your buddies' setups, and fling files to friends. BumpTop needs to be multiplatform for this strategy to work, hence the Mac version.

But the app is, still, just a replacement for traditional operating systems' desktop, which raises another objection: Who cares about the desktop? We work online, we work in file folders, we work in apps. The desktop, for many users, is just one piece of the workspace. Fortunately, future versions of the BumpTop, Agarawala says, will at least be cloud-friendly. You'll be able to see your online files and resources on your desktop, group them, work with them, and file them as you can currently do with local resources. He says that he's working with cloud storage companies (he wouldn't say which one or ones) to make this happen.

Agarawala agrees that a tool that just replaces the local desktop will have a limited future. He says, "we're making the desktop useful again." With BumpTop, the desktop is certainly fun. But I have to withhold judgment on utility until the sharing and cloud features make it into the product.