Microsoft Surface

Posted by PH on July 02, 2007
Marshall McLuhan, Miscellaneous

Back in January I had a good look at the iPhone and Jefferson Han’s work on multi-touch interfaces (here and here). And for those of you looking to gain some kind of contextualization on this fascinating and highly topical area of interface design I’ve recently come across Bill Buxton’s historical overview.

I casually mention these only by way of introduction to Microsoft’s (ahem) “new paradigm in computing”, the Surface computer. Here’s one of Microsoft’s own promotional videos:

For something a little more illuminating, and that briefly includes schematics showing the innards of the Surface:

And for the inner geek, here’s a full 18-minute test-drive of the thing:

Yes, it’s pretty impressive (although the thought of that bog-standard PC running Windows Vista hiding inside is a bit off-putting). Some thoughts:

  1. It’s not clear how the security issues will work. I mean, have you ever transferred data from one device to another without generating security prompts? As these will be public devices it seems inconceivable that security will not be a huge issue, and yet not once do we see anyone even inputting a PIN number in any of the videos. As if!
  2. Will all manufactured objects become ‘tagged’ in the near future to allow interfacing with surface computers?
  3. If so, will there develop a universal tagging language that will be understood by all “surface-compatible” products?
  4. Can we predict a new job description: Surface Designer?
  5. I do think there is a certain inevitability about this type of product.
  6. The ability of the Surface to act as a ‘docking station’ for mobile devices calls to mind one of McLuhan’s Laws of Media: if you push a technology to an extreme it flips over into it’s opposite. In other words, as mobile devices have gotten smaller and yet more powerful, the tendency for miniaturization flips over into single large device that many of them can simultaneously attach to like a Mother Ship.
  7. Doesn’t the Microsoft Surface remind you of those black glass-topped gaming tables you used to find in pubs? Space Invaders, anyone?

Of course there are those who quite rightly question Microsoft’s presumptuous and overblown claims for their product: British multi-touch interface designer Andrew Fentem has a reasonable and well-argued critique of both Microsoft and Jefferson Han here. Fentem’s own Spaceman Technologies website is well worth checking out by multi-touch aficionados.

Finally, irresistibly, if only to puncture the corporate pomposity of Microsoft:

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