MICROSOFT SURFACE: Getting to grips with new touch technology
EVEN as a twenty-something, I can fully understand the anxieties experienced when new technologies are released that we would like to try for ourselves, but which seem rather complex and perhaps difficult to handle. Anything that’s more complicated than a remote control has the potential to put anyone who considers themselves as “technologically illiterate” into a mild state of depression.
To generalise, teenagers seem to have a natural ability to immediately grasp and take control of new techno devices without ever having to consult a manual or use the help function. Having to read a manual for anything digital seems like avoidable homework to me, but lately I find myself having to refer to at least three pages of one before I feel that I have at least come close to mastering it.
Technology developers know about this consumer anxiety and most go as far as they can to keep things “simple-stupid”. We don’t necessarily need to understand how a piece of tech works to enjoy the benefits of it, but in order to operate most devices effectively, we do need to know how it communicates.
We are all naturally adept at reading body language and understanding hand gestures, which is something that is now being taught to computers. Touch technology is becoming a revolutionary method of naturally communicating with computers and represents a fundamental change in the way we interact with digital content. This is all becoming possible with Microsoft Surface.
What is Microsoft Surface?
Microsoft Surface is a multi-touch computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in simple and intuitive ways. With a large, horizontal user interface, multiple users can collaboratively and simultaneously interact with data and each other.
It’s as easy as grabbing digital content with your hands and moving information with simple gestures and touches. Surface is also able to “see” and interact with objects placed on the screen, allowing you to move information between devices such as cellphones and cameras.
The technology has been increasingly employed by businesses worldwide as it has proven to be a more efficient method of delivering information and services to customers. Because the interface is so intuitive, people generally find it easy to learn. The multi-touch and multi-user capabilities also help create a collaborative experience, helping to rid one of any anxieties.
How does it work?
As I mentioned, one doesn’t usually have to know how a piece of tech works in order to enjoy the benefits of it, but I can relate to those who have a burning desire to know how everything works.
Microsoft Surface uses cameras and image recognition in the infrared range to recognise different types of objects, such as fingers, tagged items and shapes. This input is then processed by the computer and the resulting interaction is displayed using rear projection. The user can manipulate content and interact with the computer using natural touch and hand gestures, rather than using a typical mouse and keyboard.
Microsoft Surface represents a leap ahead in digital interaction, with the ability to wirelessly connect with several other devices such as printers, networks, mobile devices, card readers and more. The sophisticated camera system of Surface sees what is touching it and recognises fingers, hands, paintbrushes, tagged objects and a myriad of other real-world items.
Microsoft Surface has four key capabilities that make it such a unique experience. (The following is adapted from the Microsoft Surface website):
Direct interaction: users can grab digital information with their hands and interact with content on-screen by touch and gesture — without using a mouse or keyboard.
Multi-user experience: the large, horizontal, 75 cm display makes it easy for several people to gather and interact with Microsoft Surface — providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
Multi-touch: Microsoft Surface responds to many points of contact simultaneously — not just from one finger (as with a typical touch screen), but from dozens of contact points at once, 52 to be exact.
- Object recognition: users can place physical, digital objects on the screen to trigger different types of digital responses — providing for a multitude of applications, such as the transfer of digital content to a mobile device.
Under the hood (sofware specs)
Microsoft Surface is based on the Windows Vista SP1 operating system. The rugged table-top structure has powerful processors, a streamlined operating system and intuitive interface, which makes it unlike any computer on the market today.
The current version for the software platform is Microsoft Surface 1.0 Service Pack 1, which gives Surface an enhanced user interface, improved manageability to help reduce the cost of ownership, broader international support, and faster, easier ways to design innovative applications.
Tagged object recognition
TOR is a particularly innovative feature of Microsoft Surface. The tag is what allows Surface to uniquely identify objects — helping the system tell the difference between identical-looking bottles of wine, for example.
Applications can also use a tag to start a command or action. By simply placing a tagged object on the screen, the tag can tell Surface to display unique information about that tagged object, such as showing more information about a bottle of wine, the wine grower, and even the type of grape and vintage.
A tagged object might also identify a cardholder so they can charge purchases. There is a video I saw of Bill Gates demonstrating this by ordering drinks for himself and an awestruck reviewer, and then paying for them by placing his credit card on the computer’s surface.
With capabilities such as direct interaction, multi-touch, multi-user, and object recognition, as well as the means for application development, Microsoft Surface certainly represents the next stage of computing. It is also certainly one new piece of technology that we can all get to grips with.
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