Floored by a coffee table

Having gone to roughly a million technology demonstrations in the last 10 years, I’m a skeptic. I’m rarely thrilled by a demo. Especially one on a Saturday when I have my nine-year-old’s exquisite company. So I blew off an invite for a Saturday show by Microsoft without a second thought.

As it happened, my daughter and I accidentally wandered into the Microsoft Surface demonstration at the Sheraton in downtown Toronto Saturday afternoon. I was not impressed by the technology. I was completely floored.

The Surface is essentially a high-powered interactive coffee table. The interface operates with everyday objects: sort and play music by hand; draw with a paint brush; display and resize a photo collection with your fingers. Watch the demo here.

Microsoft is planning to launch a commercial version with the Sheraton chain for hotel lounge use. A loyalty card dropped on the surface would verify the customer and give her access to her online content. In another context, it would work as an interactive menu (the restaurant kind, not the computer kind). Sort out your room bill, send documents to the business office for printing, brainstorm with colleagues or customers … the possibilities are limited only by the applications written for it. Microsoft is keeping that aspect close to its chest, however — there’s no SDK for third parties yet.

It’s very sci-fi, yet completely intuitive. When the price is more realistic, I think you’ll see variations on the technology in many an office boardroom or waiting room. When it’s more realistic, you’ll see one in my living room. So says my little girl.

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