Will touch drive Microsoft Surface sales or will Surface drive touch?

But at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Microsoft is discussing and demonstrating some different Surface application prototypes that seem somewhat more compelling -- customizable retail, education -- and dropped hints about gaming and office-productivity Surface apps that might be in the pipeline.

The demo applications Microsoft has shown so far for its Surface touch-tabletop system --for  ordering drinks, sharing photos by dragging them and finger painting -- have left me cold.

But at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Microsoft is discussing and demonstrating some different Surface application prototypes that seem somewhat more compelling.

During his CES keynote, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off a snowboard-customization demo that indicates the kinds of interactive retail applications which might shine on Surface multi-touch systems. Microsoft issued some talking points about the demo, claiming it "provides a clear solution to common consumer pain points," including (according to Microsoft):

  • being overwhelmed by choices
  • not having enough information
  • can’t make it yours
  • want to share it with friends

"The (Surface snowboard) application showcases the four key attributes of a surface computer including; multi-touch, object recognition, direct interaction and multi-user," said an e-mail message sent to me by the Surface team.

Microsoft also is highlighting at this week's CES show a "wine-bar demo application." This app looks similar to the drink and food ordering application Microsoft has been showing off for the past few months during public Surface demos. But there's one new element I hadn't seen before that is more educational. Tags on customers' wine glasses, when placed on the Surface tabletop, call up a map of the region from which the wine originates. The touch-activated map can provide all kinds of additional details about the vinters, the grapes, the climate, etc.

For those who listened closely to Gates' Sunday night keynote, there was a hint that gaming and office-productivity applications are in the pipeline for a Surface "desk," "meeting room table" or other kinds of future Surface systems, as well. From the transcript of Gates' remarks:

"Your desk, we won't just have the computer on the desk, but in the desk, so a meeting room table as you're collaborating, and the living room if you want to briefing up and play games with something like a Surface, or organize your photos. It will just be there, and easy to manipulate, easy to change and have multiple people connect up."

Gates and others at Microsoft are still betting big on natural user interfaces -- touch, speech, gestures -- as being the keys to the input kingdom. Supposedly, these input modes were going to take off during the "first digital decade." But Tablet PCs didn't take hold at anywhere near the rates he predicted.

While touch and speech will no doubt take off on cell phones and on-board auto systems, I admit I'm still am a doubter about how quickly or well they'll be adopted by PC users. Call me a Luddite, but if the Surface had a keyboard, I'd definitely prefer it over touch or speech.

What's your take on the Surface? Will touch technology drive the Surface? Or will Surface finally get more Microsoft users to make use of non-keyboard-based input technologies?

Editorial standards