Would You Buy Furniture From Microsoft?

Redmond is apparently considering developing a multi-touch table-top computer for the mass market, a sort of computerized family dinner table/gaming center.
Posted October 15, 2008

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Microsoft might be getting into the furniture business.

The company is apparently contemplating the development of a consumer version of Microsoft Surface, the company’s advanced multi-touch table-top computer now available only to companies that want to use it for promotions in hotels, casinos and at cell phone stores.

The evidence for all this is a report in the reliable "I Started Something" blog, which claims to have seen a survey developed by Microsoft asking consumers if they would be interested in such a product.

The survey asks respondents if they would be interested in buying a $1,500 tabletop Surface-like computer that could be used in the kitchen, living room or family room.

This computer would work like a very sophisticated iPhone. The multi-touch feature for example, would enable four people to use it at once. Instead of using a mouse, you would reach out and touch the screen to move, resize and manipulate virtual objects. You wouldn’t use a keyboard, either. Well, not a physical one, anyway. If you want to type something, you bring up an on-screen keyboard (again, like the iPhone).

This kind of next-generation system uses not only multi-touch, but also physics (on-screen items move like they have mass and momentum) and gestures (you tell the computer what to do by drawing shapes on the screen with your finger).

The Microsoft conception also includes sensor input. So when you place your cell phone on the screen, the computer automatically makes a connection and does cool things like displaying all the pictures in your phone in a circle around where you placed the physical phone. It could also let you bring up an Internet window next to the phone, then drag Web pages or media and drop them into your phone. Like this.

Code-named "Oahu," the product would not be a general-purpose Windows PC, but a new kind of smart appliance. You'd buy it as an appliance or console that would augment the PCs already in your house.

In the survey, Microsoft says "Oahu can come as a freestanding table, placed into a piece of furniture, or built into a countertop. The type of Oahu devices we are asking about today are not portable but if they are furniture or tables, they can be placed anywhere in your home."

Microsoft imagines a kitchen table computer. The survey says: "While eating breakfast, read newspaper headlines and e-mail, get updated on the daily commute, or use your fingers to expand your calendar and get details on the day’s events.” And you can use it to "help your children with their homework or oversee their play activities while getting dinner ready."

Microsoft has been hawking its vision of the home of the future for years, which always includes touch displays built into kitchen counters, walls, tables and other objects. This vision matches perfectly with the company's Surface project.

Microsoft surface is a "table-top" computer sold to hotels, casinos, cell phone carriers and others who use them as marketing gimmicks. They're all customized for specific types of retail users. AT&T uses Surface computers in some retail stores for enabling customers to explore wireless coverage areas, handset product details and other information.

Sheraton's Surface application lets guests learn about other hotels and various services offered by the hotel. It also includes a "Virtual Concierge."

The Rio Hotel in Las Vegas has a Surface implementation that facilitates flirting. It enables users to use the security cameras in the ceiling to essentially stalk other guests in the bar, and sent them creepy, inappropriate messages.

Microsoft will be throwing a Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles starting October 27 at which they'll hand out disks with the Surface SDK. Obviously, the company is interested in creating an ecosystem of multi-touch applications. In fact, Microsoft is betting the company on such an ecosystem.

Microsoft promised multi-touch features in Windows 7, which I've written about before in this space. But I think the company has since changed its plans, and intends to rush Windows 7 (as I explained here), and the first thing it will probably throw overboard is multi-touch.

But don’t let that fool you. Multi-touch is the future of all mainstream operating systems, as surely as the GUI was back in the days of the command line. Apple is working on it as well.

Which brings us back to the question: Would you buy furniture from Microsoft? And specifically, would you pay $1,500 for an internet-connected, multi-touch kitchen table from Microsoft?

Tags: services, Microsoft, wireless, iPhone, carriers

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