Microsoft Is Only Starting to Touch the 'Surface' with Product

In the category of "cool" technologies that haven't really come to market, item number one is Microsoft Surface. Used very selectively in some AT&T stores, Sheraton hotels and a few other places, it's an exciting technology that has potentially broad application. You can think of it as a large and much more sophisticated version of the iPad with a great deal more going on inside. 

Early last year I wrote Where for Art Thou Surface?

My only hands-on experience with Surface was in the lobby of the Sheraton in downtown Seattle. The technology was cool but the particular implementation fell well short of its potential. There’s something of a missed opportunity here so far. I continue to think about kiosks deployed in the real world that allow people to find directions, locations and deals.

There are several digital OOH/outernet networks that could potentially deploy something like this. Imagine a kiosk in chain stores (e.g., Starbucks), shopping malls and so on. These could display ads or video when “idle.” But they could become interactive when people touch them to retrieve information.

Canada's Globe and Mail features an interview with Microsoft researcher Bill Buxton. He discusses the next version of surface as an affordable home-based product: 

Surface is out there now. It’s in very small, specific, niche segments. The reason for that is the complexity of the technology and the cost of manufacturing. What it needs to work is such that it’s simply not suitable, even if was cheap, for broad audiences. However, it’s out there now while we work on perfecting it.

Right now it has five cameras in it and a projector and a bunch of other stuff. It’s just a lot. What will happen is that Surface will become no thicker than a sheet of glass. That will more or less be true. It’s not going to have any cameras or projectors because the cameras will be embedded in the device itself . . .

What I predict is that sooner than you’d expect—but longer than I want—these things will come in at really cost effective prices and will start appearing in people’s living rooms, dining rooms, game rooms, and so on and so forth.

And because of that bidirectional attribute and the fact that they’re horizontal, this technology will augment and enhance in a dramatic way the nature of games. It’s a very different thing to play a board game or checkers on a table like this. Even Dungeons and Dragons. You can have the whole table animated because the table can read the dice and recognize the characters and pieces. It will really transform the way we play games.

The use cases (and potential demand) for Surface were limited previously. However now that the iPad has created a market for touch-screen tablets a cheaper, more consumer friendly version of Surface won't be as difficult to explain. Interactive screens, including your TV, are becoming more common and will be increasingly so over time.

Surface is an exciting technology. Microsoft just needs to find a way to make it into a consumer product and make it affordable. But its old rival Apple may have helped condition the market and paved the way.