If you're sitting at your Mac right now, there's a fairly high chance that you'll be listening to music. Normally, if you want to skip between tracks, you'd use the keyboard shortcuts that line the top of your Apple keyboard. But what if you could could control music and movies without touching your Mac? That's what ControlAir does, and let me tell you, it's pretty impressive.
Available as a free download from the Mac App Store, ControlAir immediately gets to work by first learning what you look like. The initial setup process works out the correct alignment of your head by getting you to position your face in a designated circle, before taking you through each of its motion-controlled gestures. Once you're all set up, it's time to get controlling.
Before I go into more detail on how they work, let me be clear: you'll first need to open the app you wish to control and in many cases you will also need to manually begin playing the first track or video. Currently, ControlAir supports a handful of apps including iTunes, Spotify, VLC, Quicktime Player, VOX and Rdio, with support for more media apps "coming soon."
So let's say you're rocking out to your favorite Spotify playlist and you receive a call. Because ControlAir is silently monitoring your Mac's camera, you won't need to be physically at your computer to pause the track. In fact, you can operate it from the other side of the room. Simply raise your index finger to bring up a control menu and then slowly move your finger left or right to perform a selected action. Right now, you can use the menu to see what you're listening to, skip tracks or adjust the volume.
Often, you'll just want to quickly mute what you're listening to. Luckily, this has its own gesture too: the shush. Raise that same index finger (with your others fingers tucked almost into a fist) to your lips to cut the volume. Do the same again to restore it.
In my tests, I was surprised at the effectiveness of the software. Gestures were immediately recognized and I was able to control iTunes and Spotify without a problem. As for range, ControlAir tracked my finger from a maximum distance of around 3 meters, which was actually quite surprising. I could imagine the app would work well for parties or events where the owner isn't permanently attached to their Mac.
ControlAir is actually an eyeSight product, a company that's popped up time and again for its work on 3D control gestures. If you wondering if your Mac's camera will always be watching, the app will only utilize it when you have one of the compatible apps open. If you close iTunes or Spotify, for instance, the green indicator light next to the camera will immediately disappear. eyeSight also asks if you want to anonymously provide app data and your location when you first set it up, but you can opt out should you wish.
Right now, ControlAir is an app with a lot of promise. Because supported apps need to be open and often playing media before you can assume control, the tool isn't maybe as fully featured as you'd expect. However, with updates on the way, additional functionality will almost certainly be built into the app, allowing you to stay in control of your Mac without being anywhere near it.