Monday, May 5, 2008

Got to play with a MS Surface

I've not been a huge fan of Microsoft in recent years, what with switching to a Macbook for home and Linux at work. In fact, I haven't used a PC for more than 5 hour total in the past two years! But they have had this multitouch enabled Surface computer thing in the pipes that seemed really cool. And I have to say, it didn't really disappoint.

The AT&T store here in Atlanta has a store full of Microsoft surface computers. I will start by saying that it being Microsoft product running Vista meant that OF COURSE one of the machines was frozen. Thats right, out of a store with maybe 6 MS Surface machines, one was down, hung on the home screen and unresponsive to all touch. At least it didn't blue screen :-)

I tried several of the other machines that WERE working, and I checked out two of the apps they had. The first was a cellular coverage map application (very iPhone/Google maps-esque) that did touch scrolling and pinch zooming in/out, and little else. I poked around until I found my block in Atlanta, then I lost interest.

The second app was pretty cool, it was one that supports multiple phones being put upon the surface, and then bringing up menus, info, movies, data specs, etc about each phone (this was showed off in a MS demo video I saw as a potential app). It does so by visually identifying tags placed on the bottom of each device. Putting down a phone and selecting "colors" brought up a panel/window with a colored phone, and the panel was movable, rotatable, and resizeable. All the windows had this kind of similar feature with decent manipulation of the panels in a multitouch way, supporting pinch zoom in and out, scrolling, as well as multitouch rotation. The multitouch was pretty good...I think the touch detection, sensitivity, etc. need some more tweaking for responsive, but overall the experience was only SLIGHTLY hampered by the somewhat sluggish feeling of the response.

This kind of multi-user multitouch hasn't been seen before in the consumer arena, so I think it will be very interesting to see where this kind of technology is going. I really think that there are some untapped ideas here regarding collaboration, etc. If this could be coupled with more conventional interfaces like keyboards, I can see this technology really taking off for presentation/demo scenarios, technical group sessions, etc. I think it'd be cool as hell if a coworker and I could manipulate a couple of panes of code simultaneously with multiple keyboards, while still maintaining the multitouch movement capabilities to share a workspace.

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