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Microsoft's Multitouch Coffee Table Display 466

longacre writes "Popular Mechanics takes the Microsoft Surface system for a hands-on video test drive. To be announced at today's D5 conference, the coffee-table-esqe device allows manipulation from multiple touch points, while infrared, WiFi and Bluetooth team up to allow wireless transfers between devices placed on top of it, such as cameras and cell phones. Expected to launch before the end of the year in the $5,000-$10,000 range, the devices might not make their way under many Christmas trees, but will find the insides of Starwood hotels, Harrah's casinos and T-Mobile shops."
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Microsoft's Multitouch Coffee Table Display

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  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:40AM (#19320661) Homepage
    Wow, that's annoying. I wrote a computer display coffee-table into a science-fiction story that I just finished writing, and now everybody's going to think I just steal ideas from reading Slashdot.
    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      Or from the movie the Island. I'm pretty sure that won't be the first time either. Most things/ideas on there own are just not all that orginal.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Microsoft were a big investor in The Island, and since this technology has been in secret development since 2001 (apparently under the codename Milan) it's not too much of a stretch to think that the interface from the 2005 film was directly inspired by this product.
      • Tron? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @10:04AM (#19320993)
        In Tron, didn't the CEO guy have the display built into his office desk, with a recessed membrane-style keyboard?

        Granted it only displayed VT-100, but it was still the first example I remember of a useful PC built into the furniture.

        (yes, those old coctail arcade machines were cool (especially tennis) but I don't consider them a "PC")

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )
      What, so you are saying you don't read /. and 'er' borrow ideas from it? I thought the exchange of ideas was the whole point of /.. You just can't claim them as you own, borrowing is OK, permanently pilfering just sucks ;).

      All my ideas are free to use. Conditional. You use mine you give me yours.

  • Play PacMan? []
  • Tilt the screen at a different angle!
    • by suv4x4 ( 956391 )
      Innovation at Microsoft:
        Tilt the screen at a different angle!

      Sigh. Here's why I don't like Slashdot.
  • This is so "Star Trek" to the geek in me. Finally, a way to use the computing processing power available in a method about anyone can use. Now to get it into a package that is thinner and doesn't require the supporting table.

    The ease of use that is apparent is key, the idea is there, its the software that makes it all the more so amazing. I cannot wait till this type of interface is the standard

    on a side note, why did it take it 930AM EST to get this up on /.
    • Now to get it into a package that is thinner and doesn't require the supporting table.

      The other week Sony unveiled their thin flexible screen. I'm sure you could combine that with existing multi-touch membrane technology.
    • by witte ( 681163 )
      > This is so "Star Trek" to the geek in me.
      This needs an LCARS gui :)
  • The porn industry always finds way to bring the new technology to the masses. While I am at a loss to explain how this will happen, you have to have an imagination to think it will happen.

    Instead of setting up in the lobby of the Sheraton hotels, maybe they should make holosuite sort of things.

    I would imagine that some sort of tactile feedback would be needed, though. []
    • Well, according to the article, they eventually want to get this technology embedded into walls and ceilings. Just imagine the possibilities...beyond porn directly above your bed of course...

      For example, imagine if your 'computer wall' could display an electronic companion that followed you around the house (naked) and did various tasks that you asked of it. (sort of like a nude clipy) The possibilities are endless.
  • Similar tech (Score:2, Informative)

    There were some videos a while back of a similar system being demo'd. It showed a system which allowed for multiple simultaneous touches to be detected, so you could actually grab a photograph and resize it by pulling the corners. You could give commands by chording touches on the screen. It looked really interesting, but I can't find it anymore - anybody know where I can find them again?
  • Snippet... you just run your credit card through a reader built into the table (or, when RFID cards have become the norm, just slap your card on the tabletop) and your new phone is paid for. And the casinos are looking into this to? I guess some black/grey hatters will be heading over to [] in pre-anticipation of those Texas Hold-em games...
  • Must have... assming it is thought out better then the Zune.
    • Hey, hey... let's not go out on a limb here...

      It is frankly a cool thing. Mind you I can just see my 2-year-old daughter messing with it and launching WWIII...

  • Nice vid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yakumo.unr ( 833476 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:44AM (#19320733) Homepage
    Interesting to see briefly a little on what's happened to Jeff Han (formed his own company producing multi touch displays for business and military, including wall sized as demoed in the vid, easy to do as it's a projection display) as well as more footage of Microsoft's new toy.
  • and then I can pretend I'm in Minority Report all day long.
  • This thing is just like Dr. Merrick's desk in The Island []. When I first saw the film I thought it was a really impressive and practical interface.

    Mind you, I think the coffee-table idea is a bit risky - having seen the scratches and spills my young daughter inflicts on our toughtened glass coffee-table...
  • Inductive charger? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:54AM (#19320865)
    No? Pfft...

  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:55AM (#19320877)
    I find this very interesting from a marketing perspective. They are promoting this as if it was a product, and yet it isn't on sale - and even the implementations they are talking about (T-Mobile, Sheraton Hotels) are really trials with partners that won't be happening until the end of next year.

    So what is this all about? The Vista and Office '07 launches haven't gone well from a marketing perspective - there has been a lot of press basically saying that Microsoft is losing its competitive edge. Couple that with the iPhone, and the fact that Apple is almost certainly going to be launching new products with multi-touch capabilities over the next year or so, and I think it is clear what is going on. Microsoft really want to improve their image in relation to Apple - they don't want Apple to be seen as the innovator and them as the company that's lost it.

    Notice on the website [] that they have a section called "origins" giving the history of the technology within Microsoft - I think they are trying to reverse the image that they copy Apple. Now when the touch-screen iMac is launched (or whatever) Microsoft will have done a fairly good job at taking some of the shine off the launch, even though they don't have a consumer product in the area, nor will they have for some years.

    Note, I am not saying that Microsoft are not serious about this as a product -- just that this news launch (about a product that doesn't exist) is all about addressing people's perceptions of the company, and trying to piss on Apple's fire a bit.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )
      Unfortunately as is typical for M$ it just all comes of a copies of other peoples existing ideas. People have been dreaming about large screen very high resolution interactive work surfaces for years. M$ of blows it by target the wrong audience, coffee table surfaces in Hotels, typical, all flash and no substance.

      The real target audience should have been architects and engineers etc. using CAD but that would have taken at least half a brain. They would pay the price for the gained productivity if done cor

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MindStalker ( 22827 )
        Actually just the opposite. Plenty of firms have been selling these devices to engineers for several years. But the average public never sees them. MS wants to get these out so that the average person is using them, then in a couple years when prices drop these average people will buy them for their homes. A few hundred or sales versus a few million.
  • In the movies, most any movie where people are using some screen only device, it is only to convey the message or action to the audience, not to actually do work. Sure, maybe some interactive advertising expensive display in a place of bussiness, but other than that it can't do anything. How could one possibly convey anything but the most simple, and expected, communications with such a device? Try it yourself, just walk around today pointing at things instead of talking, and see how "easy" that is.
  • by boxlight ( 928484 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:57AM (#19320899)
    Microsoft has a long history of announcing new technologies long before they really exist in order to prevent a competitor from gaining marketing hype and momentum. This strategy goes right back to the earliest Windows versions -- you can read lots about this from an MS programmer's perspective in Barbarians [].

    Since Apple is about to announce their "top secret" features in Leopard, it seems obvious it will be this sort of touch screen technology and that Microsoft is trying to steal Apple's thunder by announcing this vaperware.

  • by SABME ( 524360 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:57AM (#19320905)
    Back in 1980, when I was a hardcore high school AD&D player, my friends and I used to talk about how great it would be to have a table, with a computer inside, for gaming.

    At the time, there were some utilities that could help with housekeeping in the game, but it was really clunky to have a whole computer there behind the DM's screen. Imagine, your character sheet and virtual dice right in front of you; automated tracking for dice rolls, combat and spell recovery; fancy graphics for your map, characters, and monsters; maybe even a soundtrack and audio effects.

    And yes, WoW has all the features I just described, and more, but the element of everyone getting together around a table and playing face-to-face cannot be replaced.

    Needless to say, I want one of these, especially for when I retire and go back to gaming full-time :-).

  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:58AM (#19320927) Homepage Journal

    Apple has been patenting the hell out of the multitouch UI concept, and I can't imagine this is going to slip by Steve Jobs without a fight. Apple purchased FingerWorks and owns most of the concepts shown in that video.

    Hidden in the recent demo for the Iphone was a glimpse of Apple's multitouch technology. If you knew where to look, it was hidden in plain site during the demo of the photo album and rolodex functions.
  • FTFA (Score:4, Funny)

    by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @09:59AM (#19320937) Homepage Journal

    forget the keyboard and mouse: The next generation of computer interfaces will be hands-on.
    That is THE stupidest thing I've read all day, and I've been to fark!

    Now, excuse me while I try to nudge my mouse with my mouth...
  • Its just that MicroSoft could miniturize their iPhone clone as much as Apple could, so they change the name to a "table".
  • Mr Blobby (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @10:10AM (#19321061)
    Firstly, let me say I think the software demos look fantastic. However...

    Is it just me, or does the choice of hardware technologies seem a bit, well, crappy? Back projection - that means the table itself is huge underneath - if you're eating in a restaurant you want a table you can streach your legs under.

    And infa-red cameras tracking the movement..? Notice when they do the paint demo - it looks like the system isn't actually very accurate. They do blobby finger painting, but if I was going to buy ones of these I would want something I could draw fine, accurate lines on with a pen. And I'm not convinced of the idea of having to put barcodes on everything so the system can recognise them.

    Surely a flat-screen technology (TFT, Plasma, whatever) coupled with one of the newer multi-touch sensitive technologies would be better?
    • Re:Mr Blobby (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheNetAvenger ( 624455 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @02:18PM (#19324923)
      Surely a flat-screen technology (TFT, Plasma, whatever) coupled with one of the newer multi-touch sensitive technologies would be better?

      Um, not really.

      First thing to note is that it is not 'multi-touch', but image sensing input, so it can distiguish all aspects of a hand, pen, or recognize items placed on the surface, this is far far beyond a multi-point touch screen technology.

      This also means that with work, barcodes on the items will not always be necessary, as the system will eventually be able to image recognize devices, however this will be an evolution, just like developing drivers for every device.

      The second thing is they are using DLP for imaging. DLP has features over Plasma and LCD in both refresh speed, contrast ratios, etc.(Anyone that owns a projector for watching movies and using their computer in the last 5 years knows the benefits of DLP.)

      I don't know how thin this specific device will get, but a rear projected image can get fairly thin using a distorted directional optical system, so they could make the display a couple of inches thick if needed. Go look up some of the new DLP display technologies that are being pushed for mobile devices, because they can get the size down to smaller than most people expect.

  • I suspect (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KKlaus ( 1012919 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @10:10AM (#19321067)
    this emerged at least partially out of their previous efforts with "media pcs." On of the obvious (but largely unspoken) problem they ran into there is that the PC with mouse and keyboard is just a shitty way to interact with media. Touchscreens, on the other hand, obviously aren't. So I think that despite the fact that they are initially of course selling this only to businesses, that will be the ultimate placement of this technology. It finally allows people to look at video, music, photos, etc, on a living room computer in a way that doesn't clash immensely with the intended atmosphere of the room. So bravo to Microsoft for making an appealing product, it'll be interesting to see what Apple's response is if this table ultimately becomes successful, as media is one of Apple's important domains. But either way, it's one of the few times MS may not be lying when they say a new paradigm is arriving. Should be fun to watch.
  • Somewhere right now Jeff Hawkins is pissed. There's stolen thunder, and then there's corporate neutering. Will Jeff's device announcement even make the front page of Slashdot now?
  • Any table-top display is not complete unless it runs pac-man, and you can eat pizza off of it. That's the version I want!

    Just let me pop in my all-Rush mixtape, and grab my bottle of New Coke...
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @10:33AM (#19321399) Journal
    I work in the A&E field, and having a drafting board like this (though with a stylus) would be _very_ cool, indeed. Bump up that resolution (150-200dpi, like my laptop) and make it in a 16:10 with 26" or 32" vertical dimension and it would be a lot like drafting on paper. The extra real estate with a 16:9 would allow a real size "sheet" of space with room on the side for toolbars and/or palettes. I drool just thinking about it.

    Oh, sure, you'd need an insane adapter to drive it (with about 4800x7680 resolution - QuadHD), but that's just the way things are. Now that I come to think of it, it might be useful for digital photo/image manipulation. At 200dpi, you could work with the images from the newest Hasselblad digitals at 1:1 pixel mapping. And, hey, if you've got $32k to drop on a camera body, you may as well pony up for the post processing, right?
  • Ever since I painted my living room, I've been having trouble selecting coordinating furniture to my fire-engine red walls. I'd been searching for a nice coffee table with a bright blue top, but could never seem to find one in just the right shade.

    This looks like it just might be suitable -- I hear it's likely to turn a lovely shade of blue on a regular basis!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Judg3 ( 88435 )
      Wow, you're quite the clever one, aren't you?
      I shall be just as clever:
      1999 called, it wants it's joke back.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @10:38AM (#19321457) Homepage
    Many things look quite impressive in the context of a demo. The MIT Media Lab has been pulling off absolutely stunning demos for... is it a decade now? Very few of them have led directly to anything real. There's no way to tell whether this is the sort of thing like Clippy that is an impressive demo but not a useful product. But the comment that "the company's unofficial Surface showman, Jeff Gattis is a clean-cut fellow who is obviously the veteran of a thousand marketing seminars" is not confidence-inspiring. It would be much more impressive if they had demonstrated the product by letting half-a-dozen people, with no training, who had never seen the product before, try to use it.

    There are some very obvious practical issues. With a vertically-oriented touchscreen, the issue was what sort of gadget you could use to prop your hands so that your arms wouldn't be trembling an aching in half an hour.

    WIth a horizontally-oriented table-sized touch screen, the obvious issue is that if you put it under a thick sheet of Lexan it won't be touch-sensitive any more... and if you don't put it under a thick sheet of Lexan it won't be touch-sensitive for long.

    It would be an interesting contest to see whether one of these $10,000 gadgets lasts longer in a typical American home or in a "Starwood hotel, Harrah's casino or T-Mobile shops." I figure a week, tops, before someone spills a cocktail on it or tries to see whether they can operate it with their butt.
  • That table would be really interesting if it could recharge devices laid on it, with "wireless power". Using magnetic induction, device batteries would have to include little rotors to "rewind" little charging dynamos pushed by rotating magnetic fields generated by the table. But that setup could banish incompatible, inefficient and schleppy wired power adapters. Devices wouldn't need to include charger HW in the product, so the entire mobile device economy could become more efficient. And portable "univers
  • As interesting as this development seems, I can't see myself wanting to use a device that requires me to lean over or look down for extended periods of time. The nice thing about current monitor/keyboard or laptop setups is that it allows a user to keep their head facing forward in a natural position and also provides a place to rest the arms that keeps them from tiring out. A vertical version of this unit would help the eyes and neck, but quickly tire the arms.

    Without any tactile feedback, it seems like a
  • Better applications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#19323219) Homepage

    There are applications for this sort of thing, but finger-painting isn't it.

    Given that the basic property of this device is that output resolution is good and screen size is large, and input resolution is poor but you can use multiple touches, an obvious application is video editing. An interface for quickly putting together a news show would find a high-end market. There are tools for this now, like Avid NewsCutter, but they rely heavily on keyboard commands and have too many modes.

    The big advantage of multi-touch is that it's a way out of the mode limitations of a single-pointer interface. Right now, your options are usually verb-object (get into mode, select thing), or object-verb (select thing, go to menu to indicate what to do with it.) This breaks down when you need to talk about more than one thing at a time. With multi-touch, there are more options.

    Somebody will probably do a DJ console with this interface.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )
      "There are applications for this sort of thing, but finger-painting isn't it."
      You lack imagination.

      My daughter would LOVE that. I would love it too, because then I can save all here 'finger paint' drawing digitally. So I can have them in perfect form, forever.

      Yes I realize there is a tactile quality of using actual paint, and I wouldn't take that away from my kids, this is just another option. FYI I actually have an eazle in my living room that my kids can use whenever they want.

      Is it the only application?
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2007 @01:00PM (#19323759)
    Bad news - that's no table, that's the new Zune Phone rumored for so long to compete against the iPhone!

    Llama or sherpa not included.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.