Random touchpoints: today’s news doesn’t even scratch the ‘surface’


Microsoft_surface_computingThe big Microsoft news today is surface computing and as a nearly full-time touch computer user, I couldn’t be happier. The last year of using a touchscreen Tablet PC has been blissful, but in reality, just baby-steps when compared to the surface computing announcement and its impact on the future. This year at the 2007 CES keynote, I got a chance to see surface computing in action as Bill Gates demonstrated it in the home of tomorrow. It’s not tomorrow yet, not for the home anyway, but it’s right around the corner for commercial applications and the home won’t be far behind. I’ve put some random thoughts on what this all means to me after the jump….enjoy, read, comment. Heck, reach out and touch ’em if you want to!

  • Some of us tech-addicts are already looking forward to having these in the home. We’re just not there yet in terms of the cost, size and practical applications.  From a pricing perspective, the average household isn’t going to pay $5,000 or more for a 30-inch, glass-topped coffee table just to pick a playlist. That’s OK; I don’t see this as a negative, rather I see this as the reason Microsoft has partnered with companies that provide services to introduce surface computing. This also brings me to point number two.
  • This first iteration of surface computing has very specific requirements. Some of the recognizable items are found through infrared-ink barcodes and other tags. How many of these types of items do you have in your home? If you didn’t say ‘none’, I’d either say, "I don’t believe you" or "You must work at Microsoft on the surface computing project". :) Again, that’s OK for now; I’m just trying to quell the consumer question of "when can I get this?", but it segues nicely into the next point….
  • Computers are getting smarter all the time and that’s going to drive this type of product into the home. Eventually, mainstream apps and computers won’t need special barcodes, tags or other identifying mechanisms to determine what an object is. Imagine small cameras with access to a database of photos figuring out what you place on the surface. Pretend there’s an intuitive nature to computing that we haven’t seen used yet; use the glass on the dining table scenario. If I place a wine glass on the table, it can determine it’s not the right footprint or shape as a pilsner glass for example. Logically, it makes no sense to present a beer list on the surface, but instead presents a wine list…
  • Touch truly does bring the word ‘personal’ back to computing. Granted I’m a little more into my devices than most consumers, but let me ask you a question: when you look at your laptop or desktop, what do you see: I’m guessing the majority of you see a machine, a tool, something that you use. With me, it’s different. I look at my UMPC as an extension of my activities. I’m constantly touching the device to interact with it. Far-fetched and odd as it sounds, we are a team to get through the day, my UMPC and me. [Yes, I full expect a wide variety of comments on this one….]
  • Surface computing bridges the physical world and virtual world like nothing before. If you watch the video, you can see countless examples of object information exposed and those objects are real objects. Call it OOI or Object Oriented Information for lack of a better description. Place an object on the surface and you’ll see usable information about it; information that can interact with other objects or services.

Just my random thoughts that I spilled onto the page in < 20 minutes; first impressions and interpretations. What’s more important are your thoughts in this conversation. Even though this is a commercial application of surface computing, what do you think of the potential? Is this a big deal or is it just hype? Where do you see it in five years: gone or in your home?


quantum flux

Definitely a great comparison with iphone in terms of significance. I can see how a potential radical shift in terms of how technology fits into the average persons life (surface) is equal to the relase of yet another smart phone, but this one with an Apple logo.

Steve Jobs could crap in a box, paint it white and call it iTurd and release it on the day the MSFT discovers cold fusion and it would be declared “a close call, but Apple really hit it out of the park and gets the nod for the more exciting announcement”


If this was positioned like a keyboard (which people use now for many games), what is the big issue with ergonomics, or positioning?

Matt Propst

Re: ergonomics….. Who didn’t sit in front of a desk their entire gradeschool days? Since when is sitting in front of a large table an issue?

For some odd reason i’d like to think that Microsoft has us covered when it comes to ergonomics.


Yeah, the ergonomics of these is a big if.

Just try to stand up and keep your arms in the air in front of you and move them up and down at random for a while. It won’t be long at all until the isometric excercise you are then doing will start to be felt, and not much longer still before your arms are killing you.

The same thing is true for things like strategy gaming that people keep bringing up with these. You’ll be moving your arms a lot back and forth even if the display is mounted “properly” in front of you at an angle, and let’s not even talk about hunching over a coffee table.


Has anybody actually thought about the ergonomics of using this type of equipment?

It’s bad enough being hunched over your laptop or UMPC (trying to keep sunlight off the screen, most probably :-). However regular long term use can not only be uncomfortable but also unhealthy (just look at the number of RSI/WURLDS claims).

On another note, how many people complain about keyboards on UMPC’s, laptops, smartphones that have poor travel and little feedback. I guess inputing information (doesn’t have to be alot just enough for an e-mail, ala smartphone/PPC) on an unresponsive glass table will take some getting used to (TIP anyone!).

Even if the format was changed to a TV like display, would you want to walk across the room to interact with your playlist?

Don’t get me wrong the technology is very interesting, but like UMPC’s, first you have to think about what do you want out of it, then how much are you prepared to work at making it work for you?

I for one am more interested in the wireless technology rather than the touch tech, as being able to use my WM phone as the sole unit to turn on my home lights, switch on the tv and select my playlist, as soon as I walk through my front door or even from my car seat appears much more amenable to me than poking the coffee table (I know some of the functions are already available through vnc clients and the like, but they are hardly intuitive, or just work in an easy to set up and use, sense).

Anyway just my random thoughts on the matter.


I want to see this extended to gaming. If anyone has downloaded the HD version of “Tom Clancy’s EndWar”, the “general” is using a surface type device. For gaming, especially RTS’s, this could be really great for the genre.

Good bye mouse and keyboard, hello the location of troops, and all your commands on 1 surface.

Thinking more about this…this could take over the keyboard as well. Like the glass tiles you see the MS employee put down on the screen for the video…what about a moveable keyboard pad that can be registered. I think the possibilities (liek with UMPCs) are as endless as what ppl want to use them for.

Matt Propst

This is great news, but the only way we will actually have this in x years, is to tell Bill G and everyone else at the Redmond Bubble, that we want it in our homes Yesterday. Only if potential customers pressure MSFT to lower costs and make the product affordable and publicly available will it happen.

Let me put it to you like this….

You wont need your UMPC in the living room if you can check your email on the coffeetable while watching tv.

Tax Man

Cool stuff! However, you are going to have a difficult time taking a coffee table with you “on the run” (which apparently means going to Starbucks).

Tax Man

Mike Cane

>>>I’m constantly touching the device to interact with it.

Is there any truth to the rumor that the future TV commercials for this will feature the song, “When I Think Of You I Touch Myself”?

Samir Shah

Long term, I see all office desks moving towards Surface. I see all office desks by 2025 in US (earlier, definitely not later) being ‘Surface’d.

Samir Shah

These times will be remebered as a time when two major events happened that changed computing forever. First, the announcement of Surface and the second, shipping of iPhone.


Looking how bad Microsoft sells the tablet PC or the UMPC, expect this concept to land on our tables within 10-15 years :)

Muliadi Jeo

I won’t say it is a super big deal but it definitely opens up more possibilities on how human interact with computer beyond mouse and keyboard. This also brings new dimension to touch screen technology which is good news for us, Tablet PC users. Hopefully this technology will eventually be brought to home.

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