Though Microsoft introduced its Surface tabletop PC last May, 2008 marked its CES debut, and it generated nearly as much buzz as any of the products that were actually announced at the show.
[You can click here to watch a video I shot with Mark Bolger, the Surface team's senior marketing director. And please be patient with me - this is the first of these I've ever done, and now I understand why folks tell me I have a perfect face for radio.]
Though it's hard to imagine that too many of us will have Surface PCs in our living rooms anytime soon, I must say it was one of the coolest product demos I've seen in a long time. The fact is, there are certain tasks that are cumbersome - or uncomfortable -- on a traditional PC - such as sorting through and tagging photos - that would be snap on a Surface device. (My colleague Mary Jo Foley is far more skeptical than I am on this point.)
That said, in the short-term, Surface's future will certainly be in the business space. Microsoft is already working with the hospitality industry to get Surface devices into hotel lobbies, and Bill Gates showed off a snowboard design application during his keynote, which once you got past the thought of Gates on a snowboard, did open the mind to loads of retail opportunities.
My personal favorite was the wine bar demo, in which a tagged wine glass was set down on the Surface, and instantaneously a variety of information appeared on screen, including photos and information about the vineyard, along with the ability to e-mail yourself information about the wine. Customers could also swipe their hands across the table to search for wines that fit their tastes, browse labels, and the like. The only downside to the demo was that Microsoft faked the wine in the glass - it was actually a foul- smelling fruit juice. Oh well, at least I remember the demo this way.