Infra-red cameras beneath the Surface track physical objects like fingers, mobile devices, paint brushes and "optical tags," so Surface can engage the user in new kinds of applications with physical movements and objects. But more importantly, those applications can be used by more than one person at the same time, enabling a level of collaboration and play that, psychologically, cannot be achieved through separate networked computers. For example, the paint program and the photo manager accommodate simultaneous actions on different parts of the Surface. I imagined an implementation of Flock on Surface where users branch off the same page in different directions, sliding their discoveries back and forth. The most fun example of a physically collaborative app was the video jigsaw puzzle, enabled by marked lucite tiles that trigger videos beneath them for assembly into a single image. Two of us worked together to identify the right position, orientation, and side of each piece (when the tile is on the wrong side, the video snippet is reversed).
I can also attest that the Surface handily withstands Coke spills. (What can I say? I was feeling naughty.)
The platform obviously does have challenges to overcome, such as initial manufacturing cost, security friction in pairing mobile devices to it, an immature developer community, and the lack of power outlets in the middle of our living room floors. But the Microsoft folks seem to have lined up enough retail and hotel partners to nurse the baby platform through its early growing pains. By Q4 next year, you'll have seen units deployed in public places (and, with any luck, my family room).
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