Microsoft Touts Next-Gen Multitouch 'Surface'

Without making firm commitments, Microsoft promotes the advantages of its Surface multitouch system.

Microsoft researchers demonstrated a Surface-type multitouch computer this week, one with significant additions to the device's graphics and touch capabilities.

But don't look for them as new features on commercial versions of Microsoft's Surface any time soon because Microsoft has no immediate commercial plans for what is a research prototype named "Second Light."

The demo came at the beginning of the South by South West (SXSWi) Interactive Conference, part of the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.

According to a report by the BBC, the "second generation" Surface tabletop computer will add capabilities to project an additional layer "above the surface of the screen." It will also feature infrared sensors to enable the computer to read users' touch gestures without actually having to touch the screen. But it could take be two to three years before such features show up on the Surface, the BBC article said.

However, a spokesperson for Microsoft in an e-mailed statement said not so fast.

"To correct some confusion in the media, we have not made any announcements about specific features or functionality of future versions of Microsoft Surface," the spokesperson said.

"Additionally, the exciting Microsoft Research project known as 'Second Light' is a prototype developed by Microsoft Research to showcase the possibilities of the surface computing platform and currently there are no plans to include it in future versions of Microsoft Surface."

Many or even most experiments done by large research entities, including Microsoft Research, don't end up as commercial products.

Multitouch potential

Still, the additions might provide some of the key technologies needed to produce devices like the interactive multitouch data wall demoed by chairman and former CEO Bill Gates at last year's Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Summit -- a multitouch screen the size of a traditional whiteboard or a small wall.

CEO Steve Ballmer first demonstrated the original Surface computer in May 2007. The initial aim was to sell the devices for customized uses such as electronic concierge service in hotels, or an electronic waitperson in a bar or restaurant, where the table top lets customers order and pay by touching the display or setting their credit cards or room keys on the surface.

At the time they were first announced, officials said the Surface devices would be too expensive for most consumers – starting around $10,000 apiece, not to mention all the custom third-party programming to make them useful. However, Microsoft executives have said that, at some point when the devices are inexpensive enough, they expect them to become more commonplace, even in consumers’ homes.

Microsoft delivered the first Surface devices to Harrah's Rio casino in Las Vegas last June for use as interactive bar tables.

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Tags: Microsoft, programming, software, media, multitouch

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