Microsoft to take the wraps off 'PlayTable'

Microsoft to take the wraps off 'PlayTable'

Summary: After at least three years of sneak peeks, Microsoft is finally set to take the official wraps off its PlayTable multi-touch, gestural- and object-recognition interface technology. Sources say the unveilig of PlayTable -- which has gone by the codenames "Table" and, most recently, "Project Milan" -- could happen next week.

TOPICS: Microsoft

After at least three years of sneak peeks, Microsoft is finally set to take the official wraps off its PlayTable technology.

PlayTable -- which also has gone by the codenames "Table" and, most recently, "Project Milan" -- is a a multi-touch, gestural- and object-recognition interface technology on which Microsoft has been laboring for the past few years.

Microsoft is expected to unveil the PlayTable technology next week, according to sources close to the company. (No word on what the "official" name of the technology will be. Maybe it will be something interesting, though, given Microsoft's seemingly growing trend to dump clunky product names for recent choices like "Silverlight" and "Popfly.")

I asked Microsoft officials for comment on PlayTable's roll-out schedule. No word back yet.

Microsoft officials have shown various demos -- including one at last year's internal company meeting -- of how PlayTable's sensor-based technology can be used to facilitate gestures, touch, and other emerging input modes on various computing surfaces.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates also provided a PlayTable-related technology demo during his Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote address in 2006, when he placed a cell phone containing digital photos on a tabletop device and all the pictures "flew out of it" and could be manipulated by touch and gestures. Microsoft has shown similar surface-computing-type demos at a handful of other conferences and events.

The Microsoft Research team has developed a number of different so-called "surface-computing" and touch-interface projects over the years, including "Touchlight" and "Play Anywhere."

Touchlight is technology developed by Microsoft Research that enables gesture-based navigation. In 2006, Microsoft decided to make Touchlight available for licensing by third-party developers as part of its IP Ventures licensing strategy.

PlayAnywhere is, according to Microsoft's description, a "compact interactive tabletop projection-vision system." Microsoft's PlayAnywhere prototype includes a projector, camera with infrared pass filter and infred LED device. Microsoft showed off a PlayAnywhere-type demo during a keynote by Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Los Angeles in mid-May 2007.

PlayTable seems to be an offshoot of these projects. PlayTable is not a pure research project, but an incubated one, inside Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division -- the group responsible for Microsoft's Xbox, Zune and mobile devices products.

Microsoft is hardly the only vendor/researcher working on ways to bring surface computing to the masses.

At the TED 2006 conference, New York University researcher Jeff Han demonstrated a high-resolution multi-touch computer screen that looked very similar to the PlayTable prototypes that have been spotted in the wild. (Han has since gone on to found a company, Perceptive Pixel, to further develop this technology.)

Hardware makers like Hewlett-Packard and Philips have publicly and independently demonstrated their own approaches to delivering surface-computing and gesture-recognition. Eon Reality, the 3D and virtual-reality software vendor which licensed Microsoft's Touchlight technology last year, offers a product called Eon Touchlight.

Topic: Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • This is unpossible

    This is not possible. Everybody knows Apple invented the multi-touch interface when they unveiled the iPhone.

    Apple even patented their innovation. You must all be lying/confused/brainwashed.


    Funny how some of these technologies only exist after Apple baubalizes them. This is a perfect example.
    • Have you ever considered

      That it might be because Apple is the first company to actually make the
      technologies in question practical?

      But, then that would ruin your fine day of hatred.
      • Ever heard of...

        ...Prior Art?

        Go educate yourself.

        Prior art has zero to do with someone's interpretation of a concept's "practicality". You opinion might be that nothing is practical (or even exists) until it has been baubalized by Apple, but you know what they say about opinions...
        • Poor Mac zealot

          They just hate it when you slam reality into their faces. :)
      • MSFT has been doing touch-screens for years

        I don't know the exact number but I think they've sold in the neighborhood of 10 million Tablet PC's. (Yes, hardware companies sold the PC's...MSFT did the software).
        • Don't forget about PocketPCs

          Millions upon millions of 'em.
        • this is multitouch. Apple unveiled this over a year ago

          (& patented it).
          • So you say that Apple..

            So you are saying that Apple "invented" and patented technology that MS has already been using for years? Read the following, and check the dates of some of the documents:



            As I said, a perfect example of Apple fanboys taking credit for Apple "inventing" something that someone else has already done. You people are tuly pathetic...
          • Almost as pathetic as you are?

            I'm sure you've heard of Newton? which came out in 1993 (years [b]before[/b]
            anything from Microsoft). But don't let the facts get in the way of a good old windows
            Zealot rant.
          • You guys should learn to read( Flame On)

            I do not mean read in general I mean read up on a subject before making yourselves look like morons. The touch screen was invented in 1970 first off. Second, Multi-Touch screens were invented by bell labs in 1984 nine years before apple decided to use it. Oh, tracking hand gestures as input was first used in 1983 though I do give MS kudos for using this technology as it was seen as useless for the most part(for those of you that think I like Microsoft piss off I am a Linux junkie). I think that about covers pissing off Apple and MS fanboys :) so have a nice day.
        • Following Apple Next & Palm PDA footprints... :-)

          I am pretty sure on this.

          Sorry to disappoint you... :-(
          Solid Water
      • I didn't know you could get one now....where?

        I can't afford it, and have zero interest considering the vast number of phones available now with much more intelligence built in, but I didn't realize Apple had already made this practical? Ever look at the work of synaptics or others that have been doing amazing things with touch screen long before Apple put her hooks into it?
    • Except you don't need to touch it!

      Most "touch-screens" mean that you actually need to touch the screen itself. The playtable has the technology to allow interaction with your hands suspended in air if you like.

      It will demonstrate the merging of our digital and physical's only the beginning.
    • Silly M$ Bot! These Technologies are Old!

      Nothing new under the Sun. Various companies have demonstrated these technologies for years. For you M$ bots that believe your glorious leaders Gates and Balmer invented both the wheel and the Computer Operating System, well I'm just wondering if you've ever bothered to count the rocks in your head or even if you can? ;)
    • Nothing is "unpossible"...

      ... because that's not even a word.
      • Quoting Ralph Wiigum

        from the Simpsons.

        The closest some of us will ever get to organized religion.

        Jack-Booted EULA
      • My post

        My post --> O *whoosh*

        Your head --> O
  • Best of all, this research was FREE!!

    [i]The Microsoft Research team has developed a number of different so-called ?surface-computing? and touch-interface projects over the years, including ?Touchlight? and ?Play Anywhere.?[/i]

    Since the ABMers love to point out that 100% of Microsoft's R&D goes into Windows, this innovation was actually created for FREE!! Man, other than those "idiots" in the Windows R&D department, Microsoft has the most brilliant researchers in the world working for them!
    • I've never heard that claim

      Even ABMers know MS Office R&D isn't zero.
      Michael Kelly
      • It is made all the time

        Every time an ABMer makes the statement that Vista sucks considering $6 billion R&D was spent on it per year, they are basically claiming that all of MS's R&D budget is spent on Windows. Silly, isn't it?