Sunday, October 24, 2010

Microsoft Surface - which use case ?

This week-end, I had the opportunity to test Microsoft Surface during "salon de l'√©ducation" (education fair) in Namur - Belgium. Microsoft Surface is a kind of large horizontal touch screen (30 inches) that you can lay on a table.

Touch events are detected through infrared, with the capability to capture a lot of simultaneous events and gestures. It's also possible to lay objects, leading to interactions through NFC or SRW.

The screen size yields quite high definition for pictures but the processor is strong enough to smoothly handle this (far better than IPad Mobile Safari for very large images ;-).

Touch detection and gestures were sometimes hazardous but this can probably be sorted out through more frequent usage (as it is for any new device, especially the touchscreen ones).

Demo applications were quite diverse:
- an interactive map,
- picture gallery,
- quite basic educative application,
- mind-mapping brainstorming application,
- weather forecast (as on all devices),- ...

At this early stage, the price is obviously irrelevant (>10000€). This depends on volume.

Some questions still resist to this demo:
- would people actually use this ?
- in which environment (home, office, hotel, school, restaurants, hospital, industry, war rooms, senior residence, etc...) will it be best applied ?
- for which kind of usage (learning, gaming, collaborative working, leisure, etc...) ?

Since demonstrated in a education fair, I guess some people imagine that small groups of children will interact around this table to learn together. A similar product - but far less powerful- was demonstrated by another vendor, apparently restricted for drawing usage.

Collaborative learning will certainly evolve and is a very nice topic to study. However, I'm not sure Microsoft Surface  (and its competitors) will play a massive role in this market.
As human beings, we naturally prefer to watch screens with at least 30° angle. Moreover, the size of the screen naturally limits number of persons who can interact. So I only see this as applicable for some restricted usages, preventing rapid significant price decrease.
Just feel free to contradict with good use cases !

Let's be fair. Even if this device would perhaps not have a bright future, let's recognize that Microsoft invested and contributed to explore this track, helping the world to progress on a very positive and promising topic.

To be continued ...

Benoit Quirynen

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