First impressions after testing Microsoft’s Surface Table:
It is a coffee-table sized hardware running Windows Vista and allowing collaborative interaction from up to 4-6 participants. The number of hand-gestures it can recognize is obviously higher than that of a standard touch-screen which can typically handle only a single tap and drag, and maybe multi-touch. On the other hand, the Surface Table can recognize multiple taps, imprecise flicks and resizes, and touch-intensity. Actually, much like a TouchSmart, it can even detect movement just above its surface. Simply put, it is like a giant iPhone.
So how does it lend itself to GIS/Planning application development? Well, it is more eye-candy than useful for its cost at this point and appropriate application ideas may not come readily. If you try to recreate a similar collaborative environment with a series of Tablet PCs, TouchSmarts and Windows 7, you might just be successful. Note that it can’t be detached from its base and wall-mounted since it has a projector underneath.
The Surface Table’s biggest strength lies in its enabling a collaborative environment, and therefore, it is more suited towards “playful infotainment”-type applications. If you develop GIS/Planning applications for the Surface Table, note this: It would be a lot of fun, but maybe not a lot useful. And also, it doesn’t carry any browser application (!) so you can’t simply start using your planning mash-up and development would present its own WPF learning curve for the web savvy. For an elegant GUI design, remember that fat shaky fingers need big buttons. In terms of pricing, Microsoft is currently also charging for its SDK (approx. $3K): Not sure of their pricing model, but it doesn’t seem like a smart idea if their goal is to also encourage the Viral Phenomenon. And although, they don’t yet come pre-installed (!), a wireless card and wheels can easily be mounted to turn your Surface Table into a self-contained unit to enhance its portability.
There are already some creative applications in-use: Soldiers returning from a patrol dump their head gears onto the Surface Table, and its docking corner instantly syncs their captured data with their sync folder- no fumbling there! Special ID tags can “identify” themselves to the Surface Table, but cell phones running Windows Mobile require a download before they can sync. Selected Omni Sheraton hotels and others are currently showcasing Surface Tables.
So how does it work? Well, conventional technologies detect touch-location by interrupting:
* Optical Field
* Surface Acoustic Wave
This interception happens just above the screen substrata and its grid coordinates are then translated to screen position. Alternatively, you can do a makeover of your current display using Dispersive Signal Technology (DST). DST integrates chemically-strengthened glass onto existing display. It detects bending wave within the glass radiating to the 4 corners where it gets converted to electric signals. This approach also makes it ideal for heavy-duty use to filter out “noise”, say when outdoors or think glass spills and crumbs in a snack-rich community planning meeting. Then there is Proximity Capacitive Resistance (PCR) for touch-across-surface.