The next wave of computing may be here. Remember the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report”? There’s a scene where Cruise’s character is standing in front of a large screen scrolling through a bunch of images and information using only his hands and some special gloves, trying to find a connection in the case he was working on. His hand gestures manipulated each item, moved it this way and that, expanding, contracting, pushing and pulling until he found what he was looking for. The screen reacted to each movement in perfect harmony. The computer followed along with simple, and some complex, hand gestures with ease. Gone was the mouse and keyboard. Gone was the remote control and single touch screen interface. What a vision of the future, I thought.
Well, this super futuristic movie, filmed in 2002, was set in 2054 A.D. Flash forward five years from 2002 (or flash back 47 years from the fictitious 2054) and Microsoft is already scratching the Surface of the same technology. That’s right, Microsoft recently announced the newest interface for today’s computers called Microsoft Surface.
The concept for the Microsoft Surface is that the user will directly interact with a multi-touch screen interface with their hands, digital devices, credit cards and much more. Surface is like a digital coffee table. It sports a 30-inch display on top of a box/table that measures 22 inches high, 21 inches deep, and 42 inches wide. The display screen is where all the magic happens. Place a digital camera on Surface and the images spill out onto the table. Drag, drop and resize those same pictures using only your hands. You can grab multiple pictures at the same time, toss one into your camera phone, email another to your friend. Speaking of camera phones, place the camera phone on Surface and you can not only manage your pictures, but also your contacts. Update your contact list or attach ring tones to your family, friends and colleagues. While you have your cell phone on the table, why not drag and drop directions to the local night spot you will be hitting later?
This is all great for home use, but what about while you’re at that night spot later? Imagine reviewing the menu interactively with the touch screen interface. Drag and drop what items you’re interested in to find out more about them. Drop them into your order then drag and drop the items in your order to split the bill later. Place your credit card next to your portion and it automatically charges your account for your portion of the bill.
The possibilities are endless. This is why Microsoft has partnered with Harrah’s, Starwood Hotels, T-Mobile and IGT to start delivering the possibilities this year. At Harrah’s hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Surface will be like a virtual concierge. From there, you can choose what restaurants, nightclubs or shows you would like to see. Imagine just placing your room key on the display and tickets or room service is ordered and charged to your room. Pull up another menu and your afternoon spa treatment is scheduled.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. plans to equip the Sheraton Hotels & Resorts with Surface for their guests. There, guests will be able to complete their computing needs at the touch of a screen. Sending email, organizing pictures and even ordering food will be a few of the things Sheraton guests can enjoy. Anything to make your traveling easier.
T-Mobile has big plans. At T-Mobile, you can place cell phones on Surface and the features of the cell phones spill onto the screen. Place multiple phones and Surface will display a comparison of the two. Once you’ve decided which to buy, simply drag and drop the service plan that fits you best. Pull some extras to the phone like a text plan, call forwarding and roadside assistance, and your phone is locked and loaded, ready with all the features you desire.
I’m not quite sure what the plans are for International Game Technology (IGT) and Microsoft Surface but you can be sure that when the largest software company in the world combines with the largest slot machine and gaming product manufacturer in the world, big things are going to happen. Will the slot machines be replaced with Surface? Will table games like blackjack and poker be electronic and interactive? Will pit bosses and slot attendants be dragging and dropping comps to players while you’re gambling? Las Vegas seems like the ideal place for Surface. With all the bling and buzz in Vegas, Surface could only add to the excitement.
Simply put, Surface is amazing. Yet, at the same time, it is so simple. When you break it down, Surface is a multi-touch display screen with wi-fi capabilities. Now, the multi-touch screen is very cool, but not entirely brand new. The military has been using technology like this for a couple years. What makes Surface so amazing is that Microsoft is able to make this commercially available and, in time, affordable for home use. Granted, that won't be any time soon -- it's supposed to be available to consumers by the end of the year for a cool $10,000 or so -- but once Surface is more affordable for home use and more and more developers get their hands on it, we could be looking at a whole new realm of computing. Maybe some day we will no longer need mouses and keyboards. If you combine Surface with a nice voice recognition system, what else would you need? It’s kinda scary to think about, yet kinda cool. Bottom line is, get ready, because we’re about to start a brand new adventure in how we interface with our technology.
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