Remember your excitement when you first played with an iPhone, using the touch screen to flip through photos and Web sites, zooming in by pushing two fingers apart and zooming out with a pinch? Well, Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on cool, new multitouch products. Microsoft has one of its own: a much larger, 30-inch, table-shaped computer called Surface.
The Surface, which can accommodate multiple users sitting around its brilliant display, is already being tested in bars, hotels, and cell phone stores. And after its initial roll out earlier this year, Microsoft finally started to open it up to third-party developers who are dreaming up games, business applications, and new and innovative uses for the huge touch screen.
Surface’s appeal lies in its flexible, intuitive interface, which responds to flicks, pinches, points, and pulls as well as bar codes and other objects put on its screen. It is also a great conversation point and collaboration tool, which has led its initial adopters to use it to bring people together, transmit information, and create a highly interactive customer experience.
At the iBar at Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, patrons sitting around a Surface can play multiplayer games such as bowling and pinball, order drinks, and see and chat with people at other Surface units. Surface also interacts with customers when they put their drinks down. By recognizing glasses with 2-D bar codes, Surface can display interactive images, updating the typically passive bar atmosphere. Research is also underway to create glassware that lets Surface know when to offer a drink refill.
Surface can also interact with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices. At Sheraton Hotels in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle, Surface is being used as a virtual concierge, offering travel tips and pictures of the local area, which customers can upload to their mobile devices. Users can also tap into the lobby’s soundtrack, create play lists, and take songs to go.
Retail stores also have intriguing uses for Surface. Phone company AT&T has started to use Surface in stores in New York City, Atlanta, San Antonio, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Northern California. It becomes a presentation tool and a personal shopper, helping customers compare phones, pick plans, find coverage areas, and transfer information from phone to phone.
Other retail possibilities include using Surface to let clients design and order custom merchandise, put together outfits, and get shopping suggestions based on their past purchases from information stored on a loyalty card. Surface could also be used as a point-of-sale device, taking credit card information and keeping customers from long lines at cash registers.
In a design or project-focused business, Surface would also make an impressive presentation tool, allowing you and a client to sit across from each other, look at mockups or project plans, manipulate them together, and brainstorm new ideas without scribbling notes on scraps of paper.
It’ll still be some time before most business owners can get their hands on Surface; Microsoft is only making deals with large businesses for the units and expects it to be three to five years before Surface is commercially available. Still, it doesn’t hurt to start dreaming about how you can more effectively engage customers with an interactive, multiuser, and multitouch device.