Microsoft Surface Thoughts

I didn’t want to clutter the previous post (the one with all the videos) will my thoughts so I figured I’d write this separately. I will just start off with this, Microsoft Surface is ridiculously cool. Not only is this technology cool and interesting, it will also be very useful.
Side note: My big dream job is working on ways to improve the human/computer interaction because frankly, it sucks right now. The way in which people interact with computers is so far from intuitive that it’s almost laughable considering the kind of technology we now have available to us.
What I previously said leads me to say this, I think this Surface technology is a HUGE step in the right direction for improving this human/computer interaction. I’ll base most of my comments on the videos posted in the previous post so if you’re confused then watching a few of those videos may help to illuminate what I’m talking about.

In general: Overall this technology will be a huge leap ahead for one very simple and basic reason: human beings like to do things with their hands. Be it finger foods, be it hands on experimentation, or be it “hands on experience”…we as humans like to manipulate things with our hands when we are trying to do some task. That being said, computers in their current form are not setup very well for this kind of interaction. The use of a mouse is definitely not a very intuitive method of interacting with content on a screen. Some people have difficulty processing the movement of their hand on a horizontal plane with the movement of a tiny pointer on a screen in a vertical plane. Using this Surface technology the interaction would be horizontal movements on a horizontal plane which should help make this interaction a bit smoother by itself. The added bonus of manipulating the content directly with your hands adds significantly to the effectiveness of this method of interaction. I don’t know for sure, but I hope the Surface devices have some kind of tactile sensation when you contact the Surface. They could take a note from the exterior screen of the upcoming Motorola Razr 2 which has touch sensitive buttons that have a slight vibration tactile sensation when you push one of the buttons. This simple tactile stimulus can make all the difference when interacting with a touch screen. Simply by adding this vibration stimulus the interaction is transformed from touching a cold piece of plastic into something that you are able to “feel” the interaction with.
In the home: The demo of manipulating images and video is a great example how this will be useful. If you want to resize an image currently you have to edit some options via a confusing menu system. Using Surface though, you simply take two fingers and simple “stretch” it out to the size you want. It’s just that simple, like it should be. Another great example of this technology was shown using an mp3 player. Understand me here, this will eventually work with any mp3 player, but in the demo they show a Zune being used (it’s Microsoft’s mp3 player in Microsoft’s demo, what do you expect?). Currently you have to plugin your mp3 player and then transfer files to your player from your computer. Using Surface though, you simply place the mp3 player on the Surface and touch and drag the music you want and “throw” it into your mp3 player. This is the very intuitive behavior of visually “placing” the music on the device which people will understand to mean the music is on your mp3 player now. The final demo I will touch on is the example of wireless cameras. They show a working demo of taking a digital photo and then simply setting the device down on the Surface and the image displays. It’s just that simple. Compare this with the current monstrosity that is digital cameras. Right now you have to find the digital camera cord or dock, plugin the camera, and then depending your software import the images. This is an unnecessarily complicated process for something that could be very easy using Surface.
In advertising/business: They show the example of sitting down at a restaurant and ordering your drinks and food using the menu right inside the table itself. The best idea here those comes in two different ways, 1. you place your order and it is immediately sent (via a network) to the kitchen. Your waitress might not like this decline in personal contact, but customers will appreciate the snappier ordering times. 2. The “preferred client card” is a very cool idea. All too often customers may forget what they ordered last time that they enjoyed. Using his preferred client card you simply place it on the Surface and it’ll display your history for that restaurant. It’s a simple thing, but it would be quite nice at least occasionally. Ideally it will become possible to have a single universal preferred client card that stores all of your shopping habits. This universal card could detect which restaurant you’re in and it would display information for only that particular restaurant. Any reduction in annoying plastic cards in your wallet is a good reduction. They also show the demo of a cup being placed on the table, and while they don’t display this specifically they talk about it. Imagine setting your glass of wine on the table and the Surface would display information about the type of wine, a picture of the vineyard, similar wines, and perhaps the premium vintage years. Advertisers could also take this in a different direction and when you set down a glass of Pepsi it could display tiny Pepsi logos (instead of the bubbles in the demo) that you could playfully push around. Simple things using Surface that could create a rich interactive experience.
In public: I haven’t put all that much thought into how Surface could be useful in public places, but a few come to mind. First example, public “you are here”maps to help people find things. Using a Surface you could scroll through the map in any direction simply by “grabbing” the map and dragging it in a direction. You could also then overlay nearby coffee shops for example based on a user search. Click on one of the coffee shops to get a menu perhaps, get the phone number and perhaps send the phone number directly to your cell so you can call them. This process would be similar to the image transfer. Hold your phone up to the Surface and then grab, drag, and “throw” the coffee shop’s info to your phone. Simple as that. I am sure I could find plenty of other examples, but I think I’ve written plenty for right now.