Google has a habit of buying up small tech firms by the armful, but its latest purchase is a bit outside its usual bailiwick: Flutter builds gesture-recognition technology that allows users to control their music and movies via hand motions performed in front of a PC Webcam.
Flutter’s acquisition price went undisclosed, which is ordinary for deals of this type. The company had previously secured funding from venture-capital firm Andreesssen Horowitz and other investors, all of which may have profited greatly from Google’s acquisition.
Flutter’s technology supports Google Chrome, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, iTunes, and Grooveshark (among other music and movie platforms). Late last year, Flutter expanded that functionality to Powerpoint and Keynote, suggesting that the company has its eye on the productivity market in addition to entertainment.
What could Google do with gesture-recognition technology? One of its biggest rivals, Microsoft, has made quite a bit of money off Kinect, a motion-sensing device that allows Xbox gamers to control their onscreen avatars via gesture. Google doesn’t have any presence in the gaming-console market, so it seems unlikely that it bought Flutter to make a move into that particular arena.
But Google is very interested in alternate ways of controlling smartphones and tablets. It’s made great strides into voice with Google Now, a “digital assistant” that allows people to perform Web searches via spoken query. In conjunction with its manufacturing partners, it’s also experimented with facial recognition in Android smartphones. Integrating gesture into that toolbox seems like a next logical step—who wouldn’t want to control their tablet or smartphone (or Chromebook) with a flick of the wrist, from across the room?
Google may also have purchased Flutter in order to keep it away from a rival with more of a present interest in gesture control, such as Apple (which is rumored to be building new products, such as a television set, which could incorporate something like that) or Microsoft (which, as previously mentioned, has significant interest in motion technology). Flutter users can continue to use the app for the time being, but the company isn’t offering any insight into Google’s ultimate intentions.