Below The Surface: Microsoft Shifted Samsung LCD Product To Grab Name For New Tablet

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The Microsoft Surface, A 10.6-Inch Windows 8 Tablet From Microsoft

At the bottom of the page for Microsoft’s new tablet Surface, there is an odd little note: “Looking for the Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft Pixelsense? Visit www.pixelsense.com“. Huh?

It looks like Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is not the first Surface to surface at the company. Before it, there was a large LCD panel, made with Samsung, which could be mounted as a table, or on a wall, that enables people to “share, collaborate and explore together using a large, thin display that recognizes fingers, hands and other objects placed on the screen.” The last update for the product was released at the beginning of 2011, during the CES show.

Customers for that version, Surface 2.0, included Dassault Aviation, Fujifilm Corp., Red Bull GmbH, Royal Bank of Canada and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

But hey! It wasn’t only big corporates who have shelled out for the Surface. TechCrunch has one, too. According to Josh, who sits in SF (I am in London):

“It’s fucking huge and apparently cost around $15,000.  We supposedly bought it thinking we could use it for meetings and brainstorming, collaboration, hoping a developer community would emerge. That never happened, and we hardly ever use it. Now it’s the world’s most expensive coffee table.”

Microsoft hasn’t necessarily discontinued the product but it’s currently done something kind of curious with it. In an Escher-like puzzle, the URL it gives for the product actually leads to a bing search page, listing lots of further links for PixelSense, the technology used in the Surface table. [Update: the link now goes to a new Microsoft product page.]

One of those older links explains a little more about what that is:

PixelSense allows a display to recognize fingers, hands, and objects placed on the screen, enabling vision-based interaction without the use of cameras. The individual pixels in the display see what’s touching the screen and that information is immediately processed and interpreted.

Think of it like the connection between the eye and the brain. You need both, working together, to see. In this case, the eye is the sensor in the panel, it picks up the image and it feeds that to the brain which is our vision input processor that recognizes the image and does something with it. Taken in whole…this is PixelSense

PixelSense technology replaced hardware in an earlier version of Surface, a clunky-sounding implementation that needed cameras under the screens surface to sense and respond to stimuli on the surface of the device.

It’s not clear whether the new Surface tablet is using any part of the older Surface technology — although both are based on touchscreens, so far at the event in LA, nothing has been mentioned about any connection. The Surface tablet will run on Windows 8, and the Surface LCDs first used Windows Vista and then Windows 7, according to this post.

Apart from the aptness of the name, there is another possible reason for why Microsoft chose an existing trademark it owned rather than try to develop something new for this tablet: it helped the company keep snooping journalists off its scent — a point noted by Nicholas James:

“FWIW I think @microsoft were smart using #Surface trademark to keep this under wraps for as long as possible!”

We will ask Microsoft for more details and update as we learn more.