Hands on with Microsoft Surface

CeBIT 2008: We take a tour of Microsoft's latest technology

Microsoft Surface is one of the software giant's most interesting new products, and PC Pro has been given a hands-on demonstration of the device at CeBIT 2008.

Surface is a 30in touchscreen table that allows people to move objects on the screen with their fingers.

The device is initially being developed for businesses and we were shown some of the applications that will be used by Microsoft's first customers, the Sheraton Hotel Group and the Caesars casino chain.

The first thing we noticed is how well the touch surface actually works, and while our Microsoft guide admitted "it won't recognise anything as fine as a pencil point", it had no trouble recognising a light touch.

More impressive is the way Microsoft has managed to bury its Vista operating system. This is evident from the first screen, a carousel menu which spins through each of the table's functions with a tap bringing up the application. It continues through the demonstration, with information displayed on animated cards or pictorially, with nary a drop-down menu in sight.

Room service

The first demonstration was of the Sheraton booking in service, in which we simply placed a mock credit card on the table. A number of options spiralled out of it, allowing us to access book-in information, local guides or hotel services. With one tap we'd booked in, with Surface charging the card.

Tapping the hotel services button brings up a jukebox with the screen filled with album covers, with songs once again selected with a tap of the finger. Customers who want to buy the song can then place their Wi-Fi enabled MP3 player - such as Micrsoft's Zune, of course - on to the Surface and drag the song to it.

The Caesars example featured a mock loyalty card that informed customers of special offers, including a scratch card game playable through Surface, in which we scratched the silver off the card by rubbing the table. A win automatically topped up the loyalty points on the card.

The final demonstration imagined us walking into a high street shop to buy a snowboard, as demonstrated by Bill Gates at CES 2008. Using the Surface we selected a snowboard, customised it by dragging various patterns onto the board and then placed a phone on the screen to save the design.

We took the phone off and the screen cleared, we put it back and after a few seconds of searching, Surface recognised the design on the phone and brought it back up with a purchase option.

Surface in the home

Our spokesperson told us that Microsoft is looking to bring the technology into the home in the next three-to-five years, but to do that it needs to "develop content and applications that are relevant to consumers.

"We're also working on orientating the screen, so that wherever you touch it, it flips to face the user," he claims.

When asked if this technology was ever likely to replace the keyboard and mouse, a situation long touted by Bill Gates, the spokesperson was a little more cagey. "Perhaps, but the things you'd do with a PC wouldn't necessarily do on Surface. Email for example is just much more natural on a PC and a real keyboard."

Click here for PC Pro's full coverage of CeBIT 2008

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