It’s the size of a coffee table but there’s not a mouse in sight. Welcome to the latest innovation in computers that could one day change the way you use the machines. Microsoft has taken the wraps off its “Surface”, a huge PC with a big difference. It’s more like a tabletop than a desktop, with a 30-inch touchscreen embedded inside of it. Five cameras are able to detect multiple movements at once, allowing users to simply drag their fingers across the front of it and have the machine respond to various commands instantly.
Those who saw the initial debut admit they were impressed. In one case, Surface marketing director Mark Bolger “fingerpainted” a smiley face on the screen using one finger then employed all ten of his digits to put hair on the visage. It’s also capable of sensing bar codes, meaning dinner patrons could simply swipe a card against a part of the screen and have their meal instantly charged to their credit card with no staff or waiter needed to process the transaction.
Initial buyers are some Las Vegas hotels, which will use the devices to allow guests to play music, download songs, order food, book tickets to a show or pay for their hotel rooms. A cell phone provider plans to use the computer as an in-store selling tool to make it easier for customers to research its products or buy ringtones. Consumers can simply put a mobile’s bar code next to the screen and it instantly displays all the features of the phone.
So where can you get you get your hands on these finger pointers? You can’t – yet. The units are big and cost between $5,000-10,000. But Microsoft expects the technology to come down in price and be on the consumer market within three to five years. And the Redmond, Washington giant believes this could be the biggest thing yet. “We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror,” explains Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.
Which is why pointing the way to the future may only take one finger.