Hands on the Microsoft Surface

Recently at the Microsoft Tech.Ed event on the Gold Coast, I had the opportunity to play with the Microsoft Surface. Microsoft Surface is effectively a massive touch screen on a table. The future applications of this are very exciting.

When I started playing with it, I was at first rather cautious, unsure how to use it and kind of concerned about scratching it or breaking it, I found the interface to be relatively easy to navigate, and utilising a couple of apps it was clear that the surface supported multiple inputs. My instant reaction was one of geeky awe, however that soon faded as I grew more familiar with it. As my confidence in using the Surface increased so did the speed with which I interacted with it, unfortunately it quickly got to a point where I was going way too fast for the Surface.

Further inspection on the table revealed that the display seemed to be relatively low resolution, especially for a screen of its size. Also, like all hardware technology gadgets, it is only as good as the software and applications that support it – and unfortunately the apps that were on display were rather underwhelming. There were a couple of games, nothing you wouldn’t expect to see on an iPad or iPhone – though the multiplayer feature that allowed you to play with someone sitting opposite to you was kind of neat, but the response time felt a little laggy so the game itself was relatively simple.

Meanwhile the other applications mostly involved basic manipulation of objects using simple gestures, again nothing you haven’t already encountered on an iPad or iPhone. I suppose the failure to entirely differentiate from the smaller touchscreen devices made this just seem like a really unwieldy bigger version, and with the size of the device (it was slightly large than a traditional cocktail table old school arcade machine) you would hope for significanlty more grunt under the bonnet, but I really didn’t get that impression.

Surface hints at the notion of being able to put objects like specially microchipped business cards on the table and it would be able to read data from it and you could manipulate and play around with the data somehow, but unfortunately that particular feature was not on display.

My outtake from it all, was that it was a promising, almost somewhat inevitable technology, but it seemed far from a useable practical form now. Taken purely as a proof of concept, I look forward to seeing it in a more user friendly format somewhere in my future, but right now, its place is at best on a convention showroom floor.

One thought on “Hands on the Microsoft Surface

  1. Regarding the hardware, keep in mind that Microsoft Surface launched in 2008 and the hardware platform for Microsoft Surface was finalized sometime in 2007. Comparing the performance to the much more recent iPad is not really a fair comparison.

    Surface is unique from a regular touchscreen because it focuses on making interaction a social experience and incorporating physical objects with virtual objects. That’s too bad that the Surface you saw did not have any tagged objects. You can take a look at some of the videos of Surface applications I’ve worked on here:

    Josh Blake
    Microsoft Surface MVP

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