Having just tried its hand at developing a digital music player, Microsoft is working on something new: digital furniture.
In advance of its formal unveiling Wednesday by Steven Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, the company described Microsoft Surface as featuring a screen embedded in an acrylic tabletop with its electronic guts hidden in the low-slung table's thick pedestal. The cost of the device was not disclosed.
At first glance, Surface is reminiscent of an old-fashioned game table around which people sat playing Pac-Man. But there is no joystick here, and no mouse or keyboard, either. The device is controlled by touching the tabletop display, which has a diagonal measure of 30 inches, or 76 centimeters.
Microsoft says the touch screen will allow people to "interact with digital content the same way they have interacted with everyday items such as photos, paintbrushes and music their entire lives: with hands, with gestures and by putting real-world objects on the surface."
For example, when a digital camera with Wi-Fi capabilities is placed on the display, the table recognizes the camera and, at a touch of the screen, downloads its photos and video clips. The digital pictures can be sorted and sized by "handling" them as if they were physical prints.
The device uses cameras under the display to detect touches, and unlike traditional touch screens, it can handle multiple touches at the same time, said Jeff Gattis, director of product management for Surface.
Similarly, Surface can read bar codes and identification tags embedded in objects like hotel chain membership cards.
Microsoft hopes this technology will someday be common in homes, but its first uses will be commercial. By the end of this year, Surface will appear in hotels, restaurants, retail stores and public entertainment sites, where it will serve as an information kiosk and handle things like basic customer service.
"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology," Ballmer said in a statement. "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."
At The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference in Carlsbad, California, Microsoft also named several partners that will be among the first companies to use Surface, including Harrah's Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and T-Mobile USA.