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Microsoft's Surface: A deeper look

The software giant has been showing off some of the applications of its interactive tabletop computer in London
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By Tim Ferguson, Contributor on
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1 of 9 Tim Ferguson/ZDNET

This table-like device is Microsoft's Surface computer, which the company has been showing off in London.

It uses a 30-inch screen, several cameras, a Vista PC and a projector to create an interactive, touch-sensitive environment that reacts to objects coming into contact with its flat surface.

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This application shows an image of the bed of a stream. When you place a finger on the screen, it reacts as if you have disturbed the water above the pebbles.

The Surface device currently costs between £5,000 and £10,000, but Microsoft hopes it will be in homes in around three to five years.

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Here the humble paint application is shown — with a real paint brush being used to draw a face on the Surface computer.

Mark Bolger, director of marketing for Microsoft Surface Computing, said: "We're redefining the way people interact with digital content. What we want to do is make technology more accessible."

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These are domino tags. They can be placed on top of the Surface computer, which then recognises commands from the pattern of eight dots.

These tags can be placed on a variety of objects and different commands can programmed into the Surface system. Microsoft is developing domino tags with 90 dots to increase the number of options.

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The domino tags have been placed on the face drawn in the paint programme, prompting the computer to display these strange patterns around the tabs to create the eyes.

Surface is also Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled, so will be able to react in a similar way to mobile-phone commands and RFID chips.

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This demonstration showed how Surface could be used in a restaurant or bar environment.

The glass has a domino tag on the bottom which sends information about what the drink is, and potentially how and where it's made. It could even be used to order another tipple.

Microsoft will roll out this Surface concierge application in the US at the end of this year or early 2008 with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Harrah's Entertainment, which owns Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas.

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The same application can be used to pay for food or drink at the end of the night. Here a credit card (left) with a domino tag fitted is being used to pay the bill, which is stored on the card on the right.

The customer simply drags the bill onto their credit card and it's paid.

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This shows an application developed for T-Mobile. The company will use Surface in some of its US stores towards the end of the year.

A mobile phone with a domino tag (left) is placed on Surface's top and the relevant information for the handset is brought up.

The customer can then select from the different talk plans at the bottom and drag them onto the phone to get an idea of pricing and so on.

In this picture, the user is selecting ring tones to put onto the phone and dragging them to the phone.

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This is a puzzle application in which domino-tagged tiles each have a different part of a video image showing scenes from London. The tiles can be arranged to create the complete picture.

Microsoft is aiming to get Surface into people's homes with similar applications.

Microsoft is also working with IGT, which makes computer arcade games, on Surface's launch in the US later this year.

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