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

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Grats on being closed minded

    Well done for putting someone down, your price
    point argument is fair but doesn't negate the
    number of possible uses of the surface device,
    which frankly are only limited by imagination,
    something that seems to be questionable for

    How do you define genuine uses? That sentence
    in itself is unintelligible. It seems you wrote
    this article more to express your dislike of an
    individual than an assessment of the
    • Well, you didn't even try to name one possible use...

      [i]which frankly are only limited by imagination,[/i]

      Hand-waving, pure and simple. And followed by a personal attack, too...

      [i]How do you define genuine uses?[/i]

      Something that fulfils a genuine need for the end-user, that could not be done just as well at a considerably reduced price using something else.

      By all means, feel free to name as many such uses as you can imagine...
      • Honestly...

        I see no educational use, as the price point is just too high. But I don't think it is pointless. I think that it's use at high end hotels, convention centers, and other places where people congregate (but aren't extremely drunk) would be a good use of the technology and could justify the price point.

        For example, I'd love to have this at a mall where I could easily pick the stores I want to shop at and it prints out a special color coded map that I could use to find these stores. You just can't do that with the existing mall map displays or map brochures. The benefit would be that I'd be a lot more like to use said mall.

        But really the intern should have replied that it's the technology that it's important, not the device itself. A $15,000 50 pound device is just not all that compelling. But if they can take the technology, put it in a 10" tablet at $600, well that completely changes the equation.

        Research isn't about building usable products (or at least it shouldn't be, that's what product teams are for), it should be able discovering what might be doable. I think this intern didn't get that message. That should have been the message you left him with, rather than that the Surface has no educational use. That's simply not all that interesting of a take away.

    • Zac is notorious for his accurate predictions

      Take a time to look on his previous articles. Pattern is obvious.
      • Can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not...

        To be fair, it's not every day you have an American understanding sarcasm.
        • Wow... was that an American bash?

          Wow... pretty blanket there... calling all Amercians stupid because some of us see how ridiculous your posts are?
  • It's not a mass-production ready device, ya wank

    Most products move from toys to main stream over time. As they move, more people put their minds to how it can be used. As more demand appears, the mass production makes the price drop.

    You logic is the same closed minded garbage that says there should not be pure research.
  • RE: FOWA 2009: Microsoft Surface 'proof of concept' actually pointless

    It's not pointless, it just has a niche use. I'm looking forward to the day I can play pac-man on this with the swipe of my finger.
    Loverock Davidson
    • he he he!

      [i] I'm looking forward to the day I can play pac-man on this with the swipe of my finger.
      a white board and an erasable marker would do the same thing for $10.
      Unless you load Linux on it, nobody is going to creeate any relevant app for it.
      Linux Geek
      • Nobody writing relevant apps for Surface?

        [i]Unless you load Linux on it, nobody is going to creeate any relevant app for it. [/i]
        Mmm.. Then I wonder what I am doing all day. And my collegues. And people at a lot of other companies out there who spend their day writing usefull and well used Surface Apps.
        And no: they didn't install Linux.
        Can you explain why you made this remark and what you meant with it?
    • $15, 000 is a bit expensive for Pac-Man, ya think?

      Just go buy an old Pac-Man machine.
  • I can think of a few uses

    Most of them were from Microsoft's own marketing materials.

    Pay your bill at a restaurant. If they can get the top to be fairly scratch and spill proof (not sure how big of an "if" that is). Lay your credit card (or cards) on the table and it pays the bill for you, and lets you divide up the check. No more giving your credit card to a waiter/waitress. This is important, because a lot of card theft happens when the waitstaff swipe your card through a pocket card reader before using it to pay your bill.

    Also, transfering files between devices like cell phones. Lay them both on the table, and they are instantly connected. No more messing with bluetooth.

    Architecture - Buy one for your firm. Have customers come in and sit around the table. Show them all of the designs electronically. If there is close but not perfect, update it on the fly by moving things around with your hand. Get imput from multiple people at the same time with ease.

    Clothing design - Same as architecture, but with clothes. Show designs, update on the fly.

    Graphics design, music composition, the list goes on.

    You're also missing the point though. Now, they're mostly just fiddling with the technology, as Microsoft always does. Wait until they release the Surface technology in their new, super secret tablet. I have a Dell touchscreen tablet now. The workflow is awesome. This technology will only make it better.
  • P0RN

    If anyone can make a buck off of a new technology it's those folks in the p*rn "industry".

    Just sit back and watch what they do.

    (Not that I would use their product...)
    • How?

      At least the perspex top should be easy to clean.
  • RE: FOWA 2009: Microsoft Surface 'proof of concept' actually pointless

    When I first heard about this a year or 2 ago, my first thought was "what use does this serve to anybody?". I guess it could be of use to casinos as an automated blackjack/poker table & eliminate the need for a dealer if it could be programmed as such. It could also be used as an automated greeter/front desk for hotels or corporations.

    On the consumer level in the future if they could make it smaller, it could be wall mounted & used for home automation.

    I initially thought it was just wasn't practical, but it can be for the business sector in some applications that I did not think of when first announced.
  • RE: FOWA 2009: Microsoft Surface 'proof of concept' actually pointless

    I think the Magic of the device is the software written for it! I have seen home-built versions that work nearly as well for not too much money, but without the software, it is a pretty pointless project! Any Linux developers out there ready to tackle the challenge?
    • At $15,000 per unit?

      [i]"Any Linux developers out there ready to tackle the challenge?"[/i]

      The device costs [i][b]$15,000[/b][/i], and individual Linux developers tend to write code for devices that they actually [i]have[/i].
      • It only costs that right now because it's proof of concept.

        Mass production and later cheaper iterations of the hardware could drive down costs just like with graphics cards and computers in general.

        I remember our office way back, having a 16,000 dollar S-100 bus computer that you couldn't sell for a dollar now. The price argument is indeed just a red herring.
        D. W. Bierbaum
        • Or better methods of doing "touch" might make it obsolete?

          Compare the "Surface" approach of having cameras and projectors beneath a large perspex table with the iPhone's small, thin, light, [i]portable[/i] panel, for example. The entire Surface approach could be nothing more than a dead end.

          Put it this way: do you think it might be possible to scale the iPhone panel up to Surface proportions for less than $15,000 [i]right now[/i]? Also: do you think that "touch" has more potential at the "pocket sized" end of the scale, or at the "furniture sized" end? Obviously, a technology that works at both ends of the scale would have the advantage there.
          • Surface is NOT touch

            IPhone is a great device. But, it's touch based, not vision based. Therefor it won't recognize objects, just touches. Surface does that.

            Besides that, the technology used in Surface allows for massive multi-touch applications (all applications on Surface should support up to at least 52 contacts at the same time: 4 people with 10 fingers each and a dozen physical objects on the table). Again, this is something the current touch systems aren't capable of doing.

            Comparing apples and pears here.