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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surface Computing

At the D: All Things Digital conference Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will unveil Microsoft Surface, the first in a new category of surface computing products from Microsoft that will “break down traditional barriers between people and technology”.

A Surface computer is able to recognize physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps. Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a dynamic surface that provides interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects.

The new product is aimed directly at hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues and should be commercially available towards the end of the year.

It’s an interesting product in that it’s completely out of left field. Microsoft gives examples of ordering a beverage during a meal with just the tap of a finger and quickly browsing through music and dragging favorite songs onto a personal playlist by moving a finger across the screen. Build this into a bar and you’d get one-touch beer service although I’m not sure if they’ve found a way to work out when your beer glass is empty so replenishment becomes automatic, maybe in a later version.

The practical uses for Surface at the point of sale are broad. This is touch screen point of sale technology at a new level.

Initial launch partners include Harrah’s Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and T-Mobile. Coverage at CrunchGear here.

Update: Channel 10 has a great first look video here. Via: TechCrunch

Few notable things about Microsoft Surface:
  • Music - You put your music player on the table, and your credit card. Both are recognized, then you drag songs to the player. Zune is obvious first device, but potential other partner in the works. One demo used a nano. Could partner really be Apple? Let’s not get carried away… yet…
  • Virtual Concierge - A fairly self explanatory guide program, complete with mapping programs.
  • Food & Drink - Not just interactive menus, but glass (and presumably plate and maybe even silverware) recognition. Like Music program, it reads credit cards just by placing them on table.
  • Photo - A simple photo editor reminiscent of iPhoto.
  • Puzzle - A game where you assemble actual pieces of glass on top of the table, each with a sliver of live video playing.
  • Water - A water screensaver that you can touch to make ripples.
  • Paint - Simple painting program that reads pressure sensitivity by judging the size of your fingerprint.
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