Just Scratching the Microsoft Surface
I'm not exactly a full-blown Luddite, but I'm seldom (actually, make that never) the one to be in the must-have-it, first-adopter category of technology consumption. I was a relative early bird on PC's, but nothing like the guys with their kits building computers in their garages. (I was, however, smart enough to foresee that the pronouncement of the then-president of my then-company was way off the mark when he was quoted in some rag asking what in God's name anyone would want a computer in their home for.
My first cell phone was hand-me-down from my friend George. It didn't exactly have a circular dial face on it, but just about. It weighed as much as a walkie-talkie and was not, if I recall, digital.
I made fun of my boss when he got his first Palm Pilot (the name alone!), but I was there with my own PDA not long after.
But I never, ever jump up in wonderment when I hear about new technology. Rather than say, 'how cool', my first reaction is often a dogged, 'great, one more thing to learn that on balance will not make my life any better.'
Still, I was intrigued when I heard a review of Microsoft's new Surface Computing on NPR when I was driving home yesterday. (It was showcased at a Wall Street Journal conference in California.)
NPR's news bit (and I do have to admit that just now when I went to type the word "news" I typed "noise", betraying my usual sentiments about shiny new technology) featured Glenn Derene of Popular Mechanics.
There's no way I'm going to do justice to the Surface, so I'll direct you to Glenn's Popular Mechanics video and written article so that you can take a look for yourself.
For those of us for whom one written word is usually worth a thousand pictures (or videos or audios), here's a bit of a description: The Surface is a no keyboard, no mouse computer (that for now is built into something that looks kind of like a coffee table). With surface computing, everything is gloriously touch screen. You can move objects around and size them, "download" - if that's the right word for it - a picture from your digital computer, "upload" it - if that's the right word - to your cell phone: no muss, no fuss, no USB.
Look, Ma, no wires! Just hands.
It's easy to imagine the applicability for gaming, and for designers and layout folks of all kinds. One of the apps discussed in the NPR story was restaurants using it as a menu that you ordered from, and paid at by smacking your credit card (or smart card) down. (I don't know how it would handle a cash transaction, but those are so yesterday, aren't they?)
When I heard the story, I also shuddered a little at the thought of how creepily invasive it could be. Imagine sitting down in a restaurant and having an unscrupulous table pick your pockets: numbers off you cell phone, credit/smart card info, etc. Talk about upping the ante on table stakes! But let's assume that the tables will, in fact, be completely above board and leave your personal devices and info the hell alone until and unless you wanted it known. (And, of course, by the time the Surface is widespread, biometrics will likely be prevalent enough to insure info security.)
What I found exciting is the possibility for collaboration when a couple of Surfaces are "strung together" (wirelessly, of course). It will make the current whiteboarding technologies look like chiseling into stone.
I will not be running out to by a Surface. (The cost: $5K to $10K. No wonder I'm a somewhat later adopter.) And I'm such a written word kind of guy, well, the QWERTY keyboard is such a natural extension of my being. There'll probably be a touch screen keyboard for those old-fashion types who still use words rather than symbols, but I can't imagine a world in which I'll just talk into "the box" (or communicate telepathically by resting my head on the surface of the Surface).
Still, when I played the video of the Surface, I have to admit that my first reaction was 'how cool is that?'
Could it be that the last, vestigial scintilla of Luddite in me has withered away and died?