How Microsoft Surface Tabletop Works

Microsoft Surface Today and Tomorrow

The Ideum MT55 not only has more impressive hardware specifications than the Samsung SUR40 running Surface 2.0, but it also beat the SUR40 to the retail market space.
The Ideum MT55 not only has more impressive hardware specifications than the Samsung SUR40 running Surface 2.0, but it also beat the SUR40 to the retail market space.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks staff

Earlier, we uncovered that Microsoft has targeted Surface to a business audience. In fact, Surface 1.0 was only available to businesses [source: Microsoft]. Some of those businesses have partnered with Microsoft to contribute the first Surface-certified applications and to help improve the Surface product overall. As of this writing, the Surface project had 84 Microsoft Surface partners and almost 300 strategic partners.

The Samsung SUR40 with Surface 2.0, scheduled for release in fall 2011, is the first Surface device available for retail purchase worldwide. Microsoft and Samsung will sell the device, as will a number of authorized resellers. Though the price and availability of Surface puts it within reach of the home consumer, Microsoft's target audience for Surface is still retail businesses.

Microsoft might be right to focus Surface's marketing toward businesses. Not only can a business wow its customers with Surface, but it can also use Surface to make transactions faster and easier. A business owner can personalize Surface, too, by recruiting experienced Windows software developers to write a custom application using the Surface Developer Kit (SDK) [source: Microsoft]. Furthermore, Surface can facilitate businesses in their green initiatives, allowing them to cut back on paper, ink and other office supply waste.

Though Surface is leading the way in the surface computing category it has created, it is not without competition in that arena. In 2009, Ideum announced its MT2 Multitouch Table with a 50-inch (1.3-meter) screen and the durability required to take abuse from the patrons of its target audience: museums. The MT2 featured Snowflake Gesture Recognition Software by NUITEQ, which opened the platform to software developers from varying programming backgrounds. By the way, NUITEQ is the company that owns the trademark for the term Natural User Interface (NUI). As of July 2011, MT2's successor MT55 uses Ideum's own GestureWorks software for application authoring, and it boasts more impressive hardware specifications than the SUR40 [sources: Davies, NUITEQ, Ideum].

In the minds of most people, multi-touch functions and user-friendly interfaces are characteristics associated more with Apple hardware than with Microsoft products. So, it's natural to wonder if Apple will produce a competitor for the Surface. Some speculate that the markets for Surface and products like the Apple iPad will not overlap. Surface is intended for large collaborative interactions more typical to storefront businesses that stay put while the iPad, iPhone and other Apple products target the individual user who's on the go [source: Howe].

Despite Apple's current lack of product in the large-scale surface computing market, the company still has the technological know-how to produce a tough competitor for Surface. We also can't discount Google and its Android partners, especially now that Android has a version (3.0) that was rebuilt from the ground up as a tablet OS. Will these be the big names challenging Microsoft in surface computing's future, or will the niche hardware manufacturers like Ideum carve out their space and dare the bigger players to enter?

This article has introduced surface computing and explore Microsoft's Surface platform. We've only just scratched the surface when it comes to touch-screen computing, though, so slide on over to the next page for lots more information.

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