The Surface has been around since 2007, but the new and improved SUR40 is a much more usable device. Microsoft and Samsung were showing off the new touch-capable table in NYC today, and I was lucky enough to get up close and personal with it.
The specs in and of themselves are impressive: 40-inch 50-point multitouch screen with a 1080×1920 resolution, AMD processors, 1GB of memory dedicated entirely to graphics, a 4-inch profile, and a host of USB/HDMI ports. It’s the computer you always wanted, save for the fact that it looks like a kitchen table and costs about $9,000.
But chances are this won’t end up in your living room. Instead, it’ll show up in your favorite retail store, at a hotel, or at the mall. That’s because this device has been specially engineered for that environment, and the needs presented within it.
That is where PixelSense comes into play. It’s an engineering technique that basically replaces the original five cameras on the Surface with hundreds and possibly thousands of tiny sensors embedded straight into the LCD panel. That means it’s no longer the conductivity of your finger directing the screen, but the screen reading your movements.
In fact, the screen sees you even as your hand hovers over the table; Microsoft has simply told it not to recognize that.
Another cool feature of this PixelSense-equipped screen is that it can detect the orientation of your finger. That means that if I want to drag an image of some shoes I’m interested in over to my corner of the Surface, the screen immediately recognizes the direction of my finger (and thus, which direction I happen to be facing) and can realign the image to face me.
But that’s just a tiny piece of what makes this thing awesome. Since the screen reads everything (and not just conductive energy), it can also handle real world objects. Oh, and it can tell which way they’re facing thanks to a small optical tag located on the bottom of the object.
Before I delve into it, just think about the retail implementations of this. Here’s one I didn’t see in action but thought would be cool:
You walk into a Foot Locker and see a pair of Nikes that are calling out to you. The only problem is that they only have them in all white and you know you’ll scuff them up. You’d prefer something a bit louder. Perhaps a royal blue?
Plop the shoe down on the Surface where a unique optical tag on the sole of the shoe can be read. Instantly you’re in Nike ID, customizing that same pair of shoes into what you want them to be.
As it does with just about any product, the Surface will generate a Microsoft tag for your shoes that can be read by your smartphone, which can then take you to a purchasing site or be saved for girlfriend’s input.
The new SUR40 is made with Gorilla Glass and is also spill resistant, using drains around the bezel to keep any spilled liquids out of the internals. Again, perfect for retail. What’s interesting is even a few drops of water are read by the Surface thanks to PixelSense.
In short, it’s all about interacting in a new way with the brands you enjoy. I saw a few different implementations of it and found myself wishing that all shopping was done this way.
For example, FujiFilm has a deal in place in Australia (but was too shy to name the retailer just yet) where the Surface can be used to make picture books. Just plug in your USB, SD card, or the like, and your pictures are then uploaded to the device (no worries, they’re never saved to the hard drive). From there, you can drag, drop, customize, add text, and finally print out a receipt to be taken to the front counter.
Absolut Vodka also has a Surface-friendly app, though no one was that clear on whether or not it’ll be live in any venues anytime soon. Still, the app lets you be the DJ, and offers different mixed drinks based on the music you’re playing. Again, you can whip out your phone to read the tag matching this or that drink and save the recipe straight to your phone.
Kia has an app that works in a very similar way to my imagined Foot Locker/Nike app, which will let you customize the vehicle (paint job, interior colors, rims, entertainment system, etc.) while you’re in a dealership.
If high-end makeup is your thing, you’ll also be excited to learn that Neiman Marcus’ luxury beauty brand Le Métier de Beauté is using the SUR40 as a consultation table in the coming months. You can customize shades of certain eye shadow or blushes which appear on-screen as soon as the actual product is placed on the table, save the “recipe” of your end-result to your phone, along with a picture of yourself post-makeover. That way you can go back home, apply the makeup yourself, and still look like you walked out of the salon.
Two of my favorites mostly concern information, and the transference of information.
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), for example, created an app that lets you work out your finances, savings, and any other special offers from the bank right on the Surface. That way you aren’t relying on the employee to give you information that is in your best interest, but can actually see the effects of whatever change you might be making to your account right in front of you. Full transparency is something the banking industry could use a hearty helping of, and also something that would probably lead more bank users to participate in programs and special offers.
Microsoft also showed me an app that will map out the inside of an airport and show you various retailers and food vendors in your terminal. The app not only shows special deals and offers from said vendors, but gives you the time it takes to walk there so you don’t miss your flight.
Of course, the possibilities are endless. If you have a loyalty or member card at a certain retailer, you can use that on the Surface to bring up your information and see if you have any rewards points to go towards a purchase, or take a look at which products are on sale. Companies can also choose to use the SUR40 for product comparisons, removing the employees and all of their “sell-more” mentalities from the purchasing decision.
Performance-wise I didn’t see any hiccups or issues at all, and I’d honestly love to have one of these in my living room as a coffee table. Sadly, I’m about $8,400 short. (The SUR40 costs $8,400.) Luckily, it’s available and shipping now so if you’ve got the dough it can be yours for the buying. If not, it’ll still be a lovely new technology to have in stores, train stations, and the like, and I can’t wait to see this thing roll out big time.