Pictures on a surface

Picture a surface that can recognise physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and that allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps.

That’s the idea behind Microsoft’s new “Surface”, the first in a new category of “surface computing products” from the Redmond, Washington outfit that brought us Windows technology.

“Surface” turns an ordinary tabletop into a surface that allows a user to interact with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects. Beginning at the end of this year, consumers will be able to interact with the Surface product in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues.

The user interface works without a traditional mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content and information on their own or collaboratively with their friends and families. They do so through a 30-inch display built into a table-like form. Applications for the surface run on built-in hardware on top of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system.

The “Surface” can also “recognise” physical objects that have identification tags similar to bar codes.This means that when a customer sets a wine glass on the surface of a table, a restaurant could provide them with information about the wine they’re ordering, pictures of the vineyard it came from and suggested food pairings tailored to that evening’s menu. The experience could let users access information on the wine-growing region and even look at recommended hotels and plan a trip without leaving the table.

Surface will be shipped to Microsoft’s partners with a portfolio of basic applications, including photos, music and virtual concierge applications that can be customized to provide their customers with unique “experiences”. Harrah’s Entertainment, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and T-Mobile USA will be some of the first companies to provide such experiences for their customers.

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