FOWA 2009: Microsoft Surface 'proof of concept' actually pointless

Summary:The young whipper-snapper I spoke to, a computer science-studying university student at Nottingham Trent University, showed me a demonstration of the Surface table. I had seen it before and while I was initially impressed with the technology, we seemed to hit a defining moment when we both realised that the device was utterly useless.

The young whipper-snapper I spoke to, a computer science-studying university student at Nottingham Trent University, showed me a demonstration of the Surface table. I had seen it before and while I was initially impressed with the technology, we seemed to hit a defining moment when we both realised that the device was utterly useless.

The device itself is quite impressive, to the point where you gaze upon its innards and see the projector and the vast amount of cabling. But to be fair it is fairly simplistic for what I thought was a breakthrough device. For a camera, a few cables, a projector lamp and perhaps a few little bits and bobs here and there - as well as the outer casing which I believe was perspex - this device cannot justifiably cost $15,000.

This Microsoft intern, the student, like me yet nothing like me, seemed to be pushing his way desperately through the one-on-one talk we were having. He was showing me the feedback from the table and using interactive objects, which are essentially ordinary objects with a barcode on the underside. While I can see this as an interesting way to input data from an object to the device, it still has flaws and doesn't work every time. It stumbles on things it doesn't know or see properly

After a few interesting (and pushing) questions from myself, he threw in the educational factor on the defence. By claiming that schools can use the Surface device as a tool to engage with students, make and build applications and learn in the process, the Surface device is a perfect piece of kit for schools.

Wrong. As the same with universities and other educational establishments, if they can make it cheaper, then they will do. One of the games involved rearranging tiles with letters on to create a word. Local education authorities are not going to shell out the vast proportion of their IT budget on a single, damned glorified table which they could access the same learning process from using cut out card and pens.

When I told him this fact, he looked baffled and thrown away for a short time. His mind switched over to "PR Mode" and carried on discussing other points about the device. Nevertheless, after numerous blows to his ego and his knowledge and understanding, I saw in his eyes that he gave in to the journalistic pressure of an educational equal.

Not only did he admit that it was a mere proof of concept device, he couldn't honestly pick a genuine use for the Surface table. Regardless of this, a number of hotels and big corporations in the US have bought one for their receptions and waiting areas. But it is not for the small businesses, the educational sector where it is the taxpayer's money going into these "investments" or anyone else for that matter.

I could see the tears well up in this young gentleman's eyes as he realised the Iron Curtain of Microsoft falling down around him. I did, however, try and recover from crippling this young man's ego by telling him "the technology was impressive". But that's all I could really say without lying to him.

Topics: Government : US, Banking, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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