Microsoft’s Surface project — their big, multi-touch table thing — has always been pretty cool… in theory. Alas, it’s always had a few big faults that have made a bit of a pipe dream: it’s big, it’s sorta clunky, and it’s really, really expensive.
Today at CES, Microsoft is showing off Surface v2.0. They’re not saying just how expensive this things going to be, but it does do away with the other two issues.
Size: Gone is the gigantic, 500 pound box of death. The wall-mounted surface that Microsoft demonstrated on today was about the thickness of a mid-range LCD TV. (On a piece of glass, by the way, that they say was the biggest chunk of gorilla glass in any device ever. “You can drop a beer bottle on this this from 18 inches without making so much as a dent”)
Clunkiness: Up until this point, the Surface has been based around a clever hack. It’s a bit of a mess to explain, but as best I understand it: infrared cameras pointed at a piece of acrylic, with infrared lights firing light through the sides of the glass. Touch the acrylic and your finger disrupts the infrared light; measure that with the IR camera, and you’ve got touch input.
Surface v2 uses something which called “Pixel Sense”, which Microsoft says “uses every pixel as a camera”. I’ve got absolutely no idea as to what technical voodoo is going on under the hood there, but it seemed damn slick; a page with handwritten words were pushed up against the screen, and the camera(s) pulled in that data and rendered it on a secondary screen. Microsoft didn’t come right out and say it, but we can assume that means at least two things: handwriting recognition/OCR, and object recognition without the wonky dot-based labeling system required in V1.