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May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surface -- The Next Big Thing or Who Cares?

Microsoft is announcing a new type of computing called Surface computing.  The PC is a table top that can be manipulated by fingers, objects, or anything else that touches the surface in a meaningful way.  There is novelty to this as there is no keyboard, mouse, or other familiar PC equipment:  just the table top and and you.  And just what can you do with this?  Right now not much, at least as an average user.  The units are between $5,000 and $10,000 per pop which makes them viable for well heeled or corporate customers. 

Microsoft is targeting the hospitality industry as initial clients for the technology.  That move makes sense given how they describe the potential uses.  A person sitting in a restaurant places a wine glass on a table.  Five infrared cameras read a bar code from the glass and the computer will display a list of entrees that go well with that wine; or, the person sees pictures of the vineyard where the wine was produced; or, they can book a trip to the vineyard right on the spot. 

Microsoft sees a great future for this type of computing and expects prices to come down in about three to five years for consumer models.  The concept is interesting and the practical applications are bound to come.  So far, the only examples coming from Microsoft seemed aimed at convenience.  Take this passage from the Microsoft Press Pass interview on Microsoft Surface:

PressPass: Why should consumers take notice and care about Microsoft Surface? How will this change their everyday lives?

[Tom] Gibbons [President of the Entertainment and Devices division]: 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.

Maybe it's me, but I thought that was all possible with a wireless connection and a laptop. 

Microsoft always tries to push the cool factor with these kinds of technology, trying to copy Apple's technique.  What's always missing from these press announcements is the practical stuff that makes this technology work.  Questions such as, how is it updated, will the OS (Vista) need to be patched, how often will the hardware need to be replaced, and others, all underly the utility.  Then there is the privacy concern.  Can five infrared cameras include an optical model for that telescreen effect?  Will the technology be ad supported?  The product has potential, but so does (did?) the Internet connected refrigerator and the Segway.  Both have great utility, but how many people need to spend extra money to get milk ordered automatically?  Even high gas prices aren't getting anyone to talk up the Segway as a transportation alternative.  Other than the hands thing, what else does this puppy do?

The press release is here.

May 30, 2007 | Permalink

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