Years and years ago, when I worked at HP’s R&D Labs in Palo Alto, California, one of the projects we had going on was a “write on image” desktop where the surface of the embedded display was touch-sensitive. Super cool and way ahead of its time. Zoom forward over fifteen years and a few years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show I saw, and wrote about, the Philips Entertaible (see: Philips Entertaible: terrible name, great product).
A few years ago Microsoft also introduced a touch-sensitive embedded display “smart table”, calling it the “Microsoft Surface”. Being familiar with the segment, I was quite interested to try one and was surprised and intrigued to learn that it was all based on cameras and a projection device underneath the “display” surface: in fact, the table doesn’t have a display in the traditional sense of the word. Here’s a slick illustration to show how it’s actually a projection device and a number of cameras that work in conjunction to “sense” touch and gestures:
[source: Popular Mechanics]
With a price point of $15,000 it’s hard to figure out who would by a Microsoft Surface, however cool it may be (and don’t get me wrong, these devices are phenomenally cool!)
That’s why when my friends at Turner PR in Denver contacted me to see if I’d want to see how the high-end real estate sales team at the Four Seasons Denver were using one, I was quite interested to check it out, camera in hand…
A typical sales office for high-end real estate, yes? Attractive, stylish, but check out the coffee table. Yes, that’s the Microsoft Surface, handsome and fitting in quite nicely with the decor (though I’m guessing the couch wasn’t quite as expensive)
A closer view of the device shows you that it’s one piece of rounded-edge glass perfectly fit into an outer glass table edge. The outer edge, at least, is about 2/3-inch thick and the entire device has a solid feel to it. Further, the seam is tight and there’s some sort of epoxy or other filler to make it a perfect seal. It is supposedly watertight, but – no surprise – no-one’s tested that by spilling a cup of coffee across the Surface.
You can see, there’s not much computer sticking out. Interestingly, the little gizmo stuck into one of the USB slots? That’s so you can use a wireless keyboard. That’s right, by default, Microsoft assumes that you will plug in a wired keyboard to use this incredibly expensive gizmo. Maybe someone should tell the boys in Redmond about Bluetooth?
Here’s the Microsoft Surface playing a video interview with one of the architects of the Four Seasons Denver. While playing continuously, the video window is resizable and can be tilted to any orientation through simple and obvious gestures. This is one of the most impressive features of the Surface, actually, its ability to live twist and resize visual elements.
Ultimately, though, this is the million dollar benefit for the Four Seasons Denver of having a Microsoft Surface Table: the ability for customers to sit comfortably, sipping a cup of tea and flipping through floor plans and walkthru’s of the (stunning) residence options. And it’s a very good solution because it lets the customer sell themselves on the product rather than having to put up with a salesperson pitching them.
In this final picture, you can see Kelly Carbajal, Marketing and Sales Manager for Four Seasons Private Residences Denver, showing off the RSS reader feature of the Microsoft Surface. Rather to my surprise, this was just about the only application on the Surface that actually reached out to the Internet for information.
Summing the experience of seeing the Microsoft Surface in situ at a commercial facility, I’d say that it was a good fit, but that the Four Seasons Denver is definitely not using it to its fullest extent due to difficulties working with the device and the lack of savvy developers. For example, I’d have liked to see animated 3D walkthru’s that would have given me a sense of what it’s like to walk in the front door into the lobby, up an elevator, down a hall, and open the door on what could perhaps be my future residence.
I nonetheless applaud the Four Seasons team for acquiring and integrating a Microsoft Surface into its sales process. It’s the only Microsoft Surface Table in the entire state of Colorado, which tells you that they’re not only innovating by using it, but being on the very cutting edge of integrating advanced technology into a commercial setting.
Now bring it down to $2,500 and I might just replace my current coffee table with one of these too. Oh, and yeah, could we run Mac OS X on it, Microsoft? 🙂