Oculus Quest hand tracking out now for users, next week for developers

Facebook is delivering an early Christmas gift for Oculus Quest users and developers: Initial support for hand tracking is launching ahead of schedule, the company said today, with users getting access to the feature starting on December 9, and developers following with an SDK during the week of December 16.

Hand tracking is a big deal for Quest because it will free users from relying exclusively on controllers to interact with content. At first, the feature will let people move their fingers in mid-air to navigate the Quest’s Home interface, including selecting library and store content, as well as setting floor height for Guardian using hands rather than controllers. Users will need to enable hand tracking support under the Experimental Features menu.

Only after developers individually implement support in their apps will the feature begin to work once content is selected. Facebook says that it expects the first third-party Quest apps with hand tracking to debut in 2020 — unsurprising given that devs will only have access to the SDK days before the holidays.

As is typical of Oculus software announcements, there’s a hitch: Exact timing isn’t guaranteed. Users itching to get their literal hands on the feature will need to wait for Quest’s still annoying software update mechanism, which may or may not install the required version 12 automatically on a Quest device. So a charging but sleeping Quest might wake up with version 12 on December 10, or a user may have to manually check Facebook’s servers for the software update.

Similarly, the company says it will offer the hand tracking SDK to developers around the 16th of December. Facebook expects that developers will use the feature to enable “more expressive gestures in social apps” and “more efficient workflows in business training modules,” but surprisingly isn’t emphasizing the gaming benefits most Quest users would likely expect. The feature is only expected to have a minor impact on battery life, measured in single-digit minutes.

Hand tracking support is an unexpected bonus for Oculus Quest users, given that the functionality previously required additional accessories such as a Leap Motion sensor to implement. How well the feature works using early and subsequent releases of the Quest software remains to be seen, but if it’s smooth and accurate, initial onboarding and all sorts of other interactions with the Quest may become radically easier for users next year.

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