Microsoft’s next-generation of Surface touchscreen tables made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. We caught up with Chip Wood, senior director of Surface at Microsoft, in a one-on-one interview about version 2.0 of Surface.
Surface is one of Microsoft’s magical technologies, a table with a touchscreen surface that responds to as many as 50 fingers touching it at the same time.
The new Surface is a lot more versatile than its predecessor and could become a big hit among advertisers and sponsors who want to entertain people at venues ranging from sports bars to concierge desks at hotels. More than 350 developers are working on applications for Surface, Wood said. It is targeted at companies that want to create showpiece technology.
That’s many more fingers than the previous version, launched in 2008, could recognize at once. So it lets people collaborate around a table and do things at the same time, like taking a photo with their fingers and stretching it out to a bigger size.
The table has a 40-inch durable touchscreen display that is about 4 inches thick. The previous version was bulky and had a projection system and multiple cameras underneath. This time, working with Samsung, Microsoft created a new technology called PixelSense, which allows the surface of the table to sense, or “see,” what is on top of it without using a camera. It can recognize fingers, hands, and other objects pressed directly on the screen.
“PixelSense brings the power of vision right into an LCD (liquid crystal display),” Wood said.
As Wood shows, the system can recognize a message written on a piece of paper. Wood showed us how partners such as Red Bull have created applications for Microsoft that let people interact with the system in new ways.
The Royal Bank of Canada created a banking application to educate users about savings accounts. The bank is sending paper mailers to customers and asks them to bring the mailer in and drop it on a table. The table recognizes the pamphlet and the user’s name and can offer specific advice to the customer. The table can show them how much money they can save over time.
You can hang a Surface table on the wall vertically or use it as a traditional table.
In the U.S., it will sell for $7,600 when it debuts later this year as the Samsung SUR40. That’s hefty, but it’s not such a bad price for businesses to pay. And it is a lot cheaper than the $12,500 cost for the 30-inch original Surface table. It still isn’t targeted at consumers to purchase, but businesses who want to attract consumers will likely spring for it.
It isn’t clear if Surface will succeed. The pre-production unit didn’t have perfectly responsive touch, but Wood said that would change as more models are produced. It certainly is cool technology.