Microsoft Breaks the Surface' in Vegas

Harrah's becomes the second company to deploy Microsoft's touch screen 'Surface' computer.

They're not Siegfried and Roy, but Las Vegas' newest attraction hit the floor this week at Harrah's Rio casino and hotel.

What is it?

Microsoft's Surface multitouch, table-top computers have arrived.

They've been a little slower arriving than promised when they were first shown this time last year, but Microsoft's Surface computers are finally up and running in the casino's iBar ultra-lounge, the two companies announced.

The 30-inch display functions as the top of the table and provides bar patrons with a number of nifty functions, such as ordering drinks electronically or even flirting with customers at another table. Other functions include a photo sharing application as well as a virtual concierge that are customized for Harrah's customers.

The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, which is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, is the second business to deploy the Surface commercially.

AT&T phone stores began deploying their own customized version of the Surface in early April.

One application that was created specifically for Harrah's is called "Flirt," and it is used for, well, flirting.

"This application allows guests to create an exciting new way to chat and meet people from one Surface to another. Strategically placed video cameras at each Surface add even more energy to the action, allowing guests to interact with old friends, flirt with new acquaintances, and take and send photos across the lounge," according to the company's statement.

Multitouch user interfaces (UI) are not exclusive to Microsoft. HP, for example, was an early developer of UIs that enable users to control a computer without a keyboard or mouse and instead to manipulate objects onscreen using their hands – plural. The best known multitouch devices today are Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch devices. This more "natural" mode of controlling the device is catching on rapidly.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the Surface at The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference last year.

So far, however, Harrah's is the only one of the original launch customers that Microsoft announced would roll out commercial applications of Surface. Other customers included Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, International Game Technology, and T-Mobile USA. However, although the target was for all of the launch customers to have Surface rolled out by the end of 2007, customization issues have slowed deployments, Microsoft officials have said.

AT&T, which has begun deploying Surface in a number of its phone stores nationally, uses the computers to help customers evaluate phones and service plans.

"Harrah's [version of Surface] is pretty neat [and] the drink software is their own development," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, told

Is the best yet to come?

However, even if Microsoft sells lots of them, Surface is not likely to be a huge money maker, particularly if it is limited to commercial locations. Currently, Microsoft says, the Surface is too expensive for consumers' homes, but that is likely to change.

Indeed, chairman Bill Gates showed off much larger multitouch screen computing technology at Microsoft's annual CEO Summit in May. At that time, he said he envisions a day not far into the future when such technology will be affordable and compelling to consumers.

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