It's show time for Microsoft's "Milan" multi-touch and gestural interface technology. And I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft decides to make this week's Wall Street Journal tech conference the debutante ball.
Milan, the technology previously known as "PlayTable," and, later, "Table," has been in incubation for the past few years at Microsoft. Milan/PlayTable is designed to allow users to navigateand manipulate data inside a browser or application using gestures (think pinches, pushes, waves, etc.).
Currently, the Milan Project sits in Microsoft's Mobile and Entertainment Division (MED), according to my tipsters. (MED is the Microsoft business unit that spearheads Xbox, Zune and Windows Mobile devices.)
It's easy to see how Microsoft might incorporate the Milan multi-touch capability into Zunes or Windows Mobile phones. In fact, one source told me that Microsoft has been pitching Milan to various wireless carriers, with the hopes that they will support a Milan-enabled Windows-Mobile phone in the not-too-distant future.
Apple, for its part, has been touting multi-touch as a key (and seemingly patented) element in the iPhone interface. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is expected to use the Journal's D5 confab this week to show off the iPhone. Jobs and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates are on tap to share the stage at D5 for a joint interview.
But Microsoft isn't looking at Milan as solely a consumer-electronics technology, sources say. My ZDNet blogging colleague Larry Dignan presciently predicted that Microsoft would look for other kinds of collaboration and business scenarios for Milan/Playtable.
"The idea is to take that (Milan) effort and move it into multiple different environments," said one of my sources. "It's not just for the home. They want to see what kinds of commercial environments" might provide a good home for the multi-touch/gesture-recognition technology, as well.
It's not a stretch to see how Microsoft and its partners might incorporate Milan into next-gen Tablet PCs and Ultra-Mobile Personal Computers (UMPCs).
Multi-touch/gesture-recognition technology also would be a natural fit in medical (think of several doctors collaborating over a shared medical file); architectural (shared schematics), educational, hospitality and lots of other applications, Microsoft is hoping.
(Still no word back from anyone from Microsoft regarding my request for a comment on PlayTable/Milan. Sounds like no one is sanctioned to talk about this until May 30 or so, from what I'm hearing.)