updated 12:10 am EDT, Wed May 30, 2007
Surface: touch table
Microsoft has officially debuted "Surface," a new umbrella brand for computers that can recognize physical objects (via barcode scanning) and react to human touch. Eschewing mice and keyboards, the first Surface platform uses a 30" table-like screen that is meant for simultaneous multi-user input. "From digital finger painting to a virtual concierge, Surface brings natural interaction to the digital world in a new and exciting way," said Microsoft.
The first Surface units are geared primarily for the service industry, offering diners and bar-goers the ability to order items and control in-table entertainment via the touchscreen. For instance, using barcode recognition, a customer could place a bottle of wine of the table and instantly be appropriately charged for it. Or, taking a page from Apple's iPhone playbook, Microsoft says "Imagine quickly browsing through music and dragging favorite songs onto a personal playlist by moving a finger across the screen. "
Like the iPhone's "MultiTouch" technology (which Steve Jobs emphatically noted was patented during his keynote address at Macworld San Francisco earlier this year), Microsoft's Surface can recognize multiple points of input simultaneously. In fact, Microsoft is also calling this capability "Multi-touch."
Among the companies already signed up to make use of Surface are T-Mobile USA, which will use the technology in retail locations to scan and retrieve product and rate plan information; Sherwood Hotels will use Surface in its lobbies, primarily for listening to music, "sending photos home" and "ordering books,"; while Harrah's Entertainment (owner of Caesar's Palace and other Las Vegas properties) will offer Surface users the ability to order show tickets, "reserve spa treatment" and more.
In a company-provided Q&A session, Microsoft's Productivity and Extended Consumer Experiences Group VP Tom Gibbons said "Surface computing is going to revolutionize everyday lives, much like the way ATMs changed how we get money from the bank. Surface lets us manipulate a tremendous amount of information with our hands so that the content works with you rather than for you. For example, with Surface's mapping application, you can manipulate a map and move it, shrink it and access personalized data for local sites, attractions and venues. To do this today, you'd need a paper map, books, concierge and even a bookstore to find and gather all the information. Or, with Surface's photo application, you have the ability to sort through pictures, decide which ones you want to share, zoom in for a closer look and more. In these ways, Surface is unlocking content; making it rich, more fun and easier to use."
Gibbons also hinted at some future applications for Surface, which sound visually fascinating if not terribly useful. "Future versions of Surface will incorporate a myriad of device-sync capabilities. For instance, users could set a digital camera or mobile phone on the surface and watch as their pictures spill out across the table."