At midnight yesterday, Microsoft announced a breakthrough product which has been in development for a long time. I learned about this story at around 4am today, and I have been seeing videos and finding out more since then. We’ve seen the technology demonstrated in the Apple Iphone, but Microsoft has taken it in a new direction. This seriously is one of the coolest products I’ve ever seen and a real glimpse into the future of technology.
First let me say something about ubiquitous computing. It is a model of HCI or Human Computer Interaction in which computers are integrated into everyday objects and activities. I learned about this in a college class but I think Wikipedia defines it best.
Ubiquitous computing – as opposed to the desktop paradigm, in which a single user consciously engages a single device for a specialized purpose, someone “using” ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, in the course of ordinary activities, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.
This concept is related to this product because Microsoft Surface has huge potential for so many applications.
So…what is it? In a nutshell, Microsoft Surface is basically a touchscreen coffee table that will change the world. It represents a fundamental change in user interactivity with digital media.
It uses multi touch technology which has had history dating back to 1982 and was mostly recently and notably seen in the Apple Iphone. There are four main components in the interface, direct interaction, multi-touch contact, a multi-user experience, and object recognition. You may have also seen this technology from Perceptive Pixel which was launched by NYU professor Jeff Han. “I firmly believe that in the near future, we will have wallpaper displays in every hallway, in every desk. Every surface will be a point of interaction with a computer,” Han says, “and for that to happen, we really need interfaces like this.”
Below are 4 pictures I’ve selected from the press release.
Three of the coolest things I’ve seen so far is…
You can put a camera onto the Surface and images will instantly display. Then put a phone onto the Surface and drag images to the phone. You will have successfully transferred images without plugging in any wires.
You can place a debit/credit card onto the Surface and everyone can pay individually for their meals with no hassle.
It recognizes food and drinks! (Of course some stuff will need barcodes or RFID)
There are so many things that the Microsoft Surface can do, it’s mind boggling. Of course it will take some time before devices communicate so seamlessly, and it will take even more time before the general public will fully adopt this technology.
This technology in the context of ubiquitous computing means that soon you’ll see this all over the modern home. For example, your kitchen counter or wall might have something like this and you could pull up a recipe, look up the fat content of a food, or even watch animated step by step instructions for cooking.
I encourage you to view all the videos on the official website as well as behind-the-scenes videos on what the technology is all about. Absolutely amazing.
http://www.microsoft.com/surface/ – Official site with videos demonstrating the technology
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2007/may07/05-29Surface.mspx – FAQ and official press release
http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/industry/4217348.html – Incredible behind-the-scenes and highly informative. Must see.
At the moment, it is for commercial application because the cost of this is not yet a feasible product for the average consumer. Microsoft has partnered with T-Mobile, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and Harrah’s entertainment to introduce this technology the retail and service industries by the end of 2007. Hopefully we’ll see this in the hands of an average person very soon.