There hasn't been a tech table this interesting since Atari introduced a tabletop version of its popular Pac-Man arcade game in the early 1980s. This week, Microsoft announced that it will ship a new table-based computer called Surface later this year. Code-named Milan, the tech table is the result of six years of research. No wonder it took the company so long to get Windows Vista out the door.
"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed. "We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision."
Remember, of course, that Microsoft is famous for making first steps and then quietly walking away from failed technologies. And although it's too early to describe Surface as a waste of time, let's just say it's got "Clippit" written all over it. To put it another way: There's no doubt that computing will get even more pervasive in the years ahead, and I'm sure a distant descendant of Surface will be part of this future. But I can also easily imagine an interim time when Surface, noting that you're about to brush your teeth, ominously says, "It looks like you're trying to shave. Would you like some help?" Uh-oh.
Before this article devolves too far into farce, I should point out that the initial version of Surface isn't heading into consumers' homes; instead it's aimed at vertical markets, such as hotels and casinos. Surface-based computers will be used for game playing, ticket purchasing, and similar purposes. So your shaving needs, at least for the foreseeable future, will need to be handled manually.
Microsoft introduced Surface at the annual D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, California. Other innovative devices introduced at the show include a new pen-shaped computer from LiveScribe--see, I told you Tablet PCs were passe--and a new type of mobile device from Palm. Maybe it's a portable shaver. You never know.