3 things I didn’t know and 3 things I want to see on Surface

I finally got  chance to see Microsoft’s Surface technology up close this week as part of the Metro Toronto .NET User Group‘s Tuesday session.  Here’s 3 things I didn’t know about it:

It uses projection technology.  This makes it a very deep box (maybe a little higher than a coffee table) but probably results in a more durable offering, since most deployments will be in fairly public areas for now based on the price.

It uses infrared sensors to measure touch, not the usual touch screen stuff.  Again, more durable, and fancy DSP software can recognize something like 52 independent contact points silmultaneously (and even what direction your finger is pointing).  This also means that there’s no pressure sensitivity.

It uses WPF for the main programming interface with a few new controls that give you a solid interaction experience out of the box (including some physics modelling).  You can actually code anything that supports HWND, including XNA, but then you’ll have to make your own controls.

I got the chance to play with the demos a bit.  4 way pong was a little tedious but a great example of the social potential of the apps – the thing’s designed for multiple simultaneous users, and it shows.  I also got a kick out of the mapping application.  We were able to tilt the world and get a good look at the bar we were heading to afterwards.

Talking with some of the other attendees, here are 3 killer apps I’d like to see on Surface:

The next generation of DJ interfaces.  Someone has to be working on this one already.  Throw two discs on the screen, let them control the spin, and then get some top DJs in to make their dream wish list of features.  I’ve never tried working turntables, so I don’t have a lot to offer here, but it seems like a great tactile experience.

Air hockey.  This will get better when we get larger devices (they’ll come, but at the moment it’s 1024×768 on a 30 inch screen I think), but the ability to use real paddles (you can put stickers on the bottom with special tags that Surface can recognize) combined with a virtual table that you can do anything with (land mines?) would be awesome.

Galcon.  Shane (?) showed it to me on the iPhone after the talk and I realized I’d almost supressed the memory of how many hours that thing cost me. I think it’d be an awesome example of a multiplayer experience (networked and on the same table) – it could take on the Wii for physical exertion!

Above all, it was nice to see “out there” Microsoft technology that actually has potential for long term adoption.  I don’t know what form Surface technology will take in the home, but there’s something brewing there – the cost is prohibitive at the moment, but remember how much flat screen TVs cost a few years back.

A huge thanks to the Metro Toronto .NET User’s Group and Infusion for putting on the demo.  I went to three events this week (also hitting AJAX pub night and Rails Project Night) and this was the winner for overall technical content and interesting conversations afterward.





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