Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Microsoft SideSight

GearLog has an excellent article on another new research project out of Microsoft called SideSight. While its not Microsoft Surface related it is a pretty cool Natural User Interface (NUI) technology that will probably have applications far beyond those illustrated with the mobile phone.

Is it just me or is Microsoft showing itself to be a pioneer in NUI technology? They are the first company to mass produce a high quality multi-touch table device (i.e. Microsoft Surface), they demonstrated research projects like SurfaceWare, SecondLight and now SideSight. They even promise that Windows 7 will support a multi-touch interface! Like Apple, Inc., I think Microsoft may have found its second breadth in the consumer technology market. They are defiantly innovating in the NUI space which is the future of human-computer interactions.

SurfaceWare for Microsoft Surface

About Projectors has an article about a new research project for Microsoft Surface called "SurfaceWare". Along with an informative video the article says:

"Microsoft has a new research project called SurfaceWare. This program is designed for the food industry and allows waiters to see when glasses need refilled. The SurfaceWare projects a laser through the Surface’s screen at a specially designed cup that has a reflective prism on the bottom of the cup. The liquid in the cup absorbs the laser light when the cup is full. When the cup is almost empty, the laser is reflected back to the Surface and tells the waiter/waitress when to ask the guest for a refill or the Surface can be programmed to order the drinks automatically."

Endgadget has a hilarious take on the new technology which states that "SurfaceWare holds the promise of optimizing your time-to-alcohol consumption ratio." All humor aside its a really cool application for Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft SecondLight

PC Magazine has a great article about Microsoft SecondLight, a research project that adds another dimension to the Microsoft Surface experience. Put simply, SecondLight allows you to see alternate views of an object projected on the Surface screen. The article in PC Magazine has a pretty good explanation with demo photos.

The whole thing reminds of that scene in Dune (1984) when Dr. Yueh scans an Harkonnen body to find a hidden artifact. It was one of many really cool technologies shown in the original Dune movie - I can't imagine why Hollywood feels compelled to do a remake of that classic.


CrunchGear has a great article about a new multi-touch table device similar to Microsoft Surface, but targeted at elementary eduction. The device will be produced by SMART which has along history (20 years) of manufacturing and selling electronic white boards and more recently multi-touch laptop computers. Apparently they have built a business selling to the education market.

In its article, CrunchGear asks is the $7,000.00 price tag for the SMART Table will be too much now that Microsoft has hinted at Oahu (see my Oahu post). My guess is that Oahu will not be available for about a year so as long as Microsoft Surface maintains its $15,500.00 price tag SMART Table may look attractive.

That said, judging by the video demo of SMART Table the resolution and clarity of the display is inferior to Microsoft Surface. The SMART Table screen looks cloudy. It may be a poor demo but I doubt they would have invested in a demo that shows an inferior projection unless it couldn't be helped. Of course, until I actually see one I have no idea how good it is.


Microsoft sent out a product survey asking if people would buy a $1,500.00 Microsoft Surface device code named "Oahu". The response has been a resound yes! Excellent coverage of the survey and its meaning can be found here.

Although Oahu is only a concept and not a product, I think Microsoft is serious about producing a less bulky Microsoft Surface device that the average consumer can afford. As I mentioned in my blog post "Developing Surface Applications" the $15,500.00 price tag on the current Microsoft Surface device, which is much heavier and taller than Oahu, is a huge barrier to adoption. Oahu fixes that problem nicely.

We'll probably find out more about Oahu next week at the PDC 2008 conference in Los Angeles. Microsoft plans to give out the Surface SDK at PDC 2008 so it seems likely, to me anyway, that they will make an announcement about their intentions regarding Oahu.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The worst is yet to come

I'm generally a pretty optimistic person but last year I pulled everything I had out of the stock market and put it all into cash deposits. Seeing what is happening now, I'm glad I did. I would like to say I always make smart investment decisions, but like everyone I'm hot as often as I'm cold. For example, I have some nice property in Florida if anyone is interested.

Today I read this article published by CNET and it pretty much confirmed my most pessimistic personal forcast for the economy. We are in big trouble and its time that we prepare for the worst. First the stock market is not even close to bottom. It looks like there are some good buys but I'm not buying. Within the next eight weeks the rest of the country (I'm based in the US) is going to pull out of the market and then we'll really see the bird poop hit the fan.

There is anicdotal evidence all around me that things are getting much worse. My father is in the housing industry and has weathered many economic storms over the past 40 years. He tells me that this one is really bad. Construction is usally a leading indicator for the economy in general. I've also discovered while speaking with friends about the economy that many companies are implementing hiring-freezes. That's never good. Hiring freezes will probably be followed by layoffs. I hate to be the curmudgeon and I hope I'm wrong, but I think the worst is yet to come.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Developing Surface Applicaitons

Microsoft just announced the other day that Surface SDK will be given away to attendees of the PDC2008. I won't be able to attend that because I'll be at an Eclipse conference around the same time but I'm excited about the possibility that Microsoft is making the SDK more generally available. My question is: With the price of Surface units so high how will average developers get any field experience with Surface?

A couple weeks ago I contacted Microsoft to see about getting my own Surface unit and SDK. I found out at that time that it would cost $15,500.00 for a Surface unit, SDK, and two days of training at Redmond. While I can afford to take the risk associated with such a hefty price tag (barely) I don't think the average developer will lay down 15.5K for the opportunity to own a surface. Could the pricing policy be changing? If they are making the SDK available outside of select 3rd party developers will they also lower the cost of the Surface?

If Windows 7 is going to be multi-touch and based, at least in part, on Microsoft Surface technology how will it compare with Surface? Surface is a large device - the size of a coffee table. How will they shrink 5 infrared cameras and projector into a desktop computer? The answer, I think, is that they won't. Instead I suspect that Windows 7 machines will take advantage of other less bulky multi-touch technologies such as resistive or capacitive screens. The average Windows 7 users will use their machine as a vertical monitor not a horizontal surface.

This is one of the things that sets Microsoft Surface apart from other computing devices - you can bang on it, set a coffee mug on it, sit on it (although that's probably not a good idea in general) and put it in a semi-public setting like a bar, hotel lobby, or the gallery of a retail store and it will stand up to constant use from the general public. In order to support that kind of ruggedness, Microsoft made the top of the Surface acrylic glass, they project from behind the glass, and use infrared technology. Devices used at home by most people will need to be smaller and therefor less robust.

That's not to say that the Surface units won't find a place in the home. Microsoft has said in many demos on the web that they think its going to be 3 or 4 years before Surface is a mass-consumer device. While I agree, I can also see the people who buy pin-ball machines, pool tables, and large entertainments systems for their homes buying Surface in the not-to-distant-future. Imagine the fun you could have with the device - after all, its more engaging than a a pool table.