Years after Microsoft demoed its "big-ass table", Surface has finally had its Australian release.
Australia is the 19th country in the world to get the technology, which so far focuses on commercial — primarily retail and education — applications. A user-facing unit will set a company back AU$21,000, but if you want to develop for the platform, it'll cost you AU$24,000.
While partners and execs were wheeled out in the usual Microsoft fanfare, only three Surface apps were really shown off: Lonely Planet's, which allows users to pull information based on what travel guide they place on the table; nsquared's learning tool, which involves a rotating animal that appears and up to four players having to spell its name using letters littered throughout the screen; and ANZ's app, which rather than focusing on finance, instead brought up information about tennis, and quizzed users where in the world tennis players come from.
Who knows what lies beneath the Surface? Well, we know — a bit. There are five cameras, one in each corner and one in the middle that detects what you place on the screen. There's also a rear projection unit, which is what shows the image. There's also a "Vista era" PC inside, which one developer hazarded to guess is probably a Core 2 Duo with ATI graphics.
The proceedings were kicked off by Danny Beck, senior enterprise product marketing manager for Windows Commercial, complete with the official Twitter hash tag for the event. The huge rear projection screen was very impressive, and appeared to be high def. Now if that was touch enabled, that'd create quite the spectacle.
Robbie Bach, president for the Entertainment and Devices Division of Microsoft, was wheeled out from the US to explain some of Surface's history and potential. He seemed to be unaware of the ominous squishing finger behind him.
Microsoft's "evangelists" are high energy product managers who espouse the benefits of its technology. Here, Michael Kordahi appears to have a divine moment usually reserved for the other type of evangelist.
Demonstrating the Lonely Planet app, which allows users to browse through images or find events in an area based on what objects are placed down. Most apps can support multiple users, with the Surface able to interpret at least 50 touch points simultaneously.
The menu is like a hybrid of Sony's XMB (first featured on the Playstation 3) and Microsoft's own NXE from the Xbox 360. Most users won't ever see this, an installed Surface will likely only be running one dedicated application.
The circles on the business card are the "Surface code"; this is what lets Surface know what's been placed on top of it. It's an 8-bit code, meaning that within any one application there are 256 potential objects that it can interact with. There's also a 32-bit code which appears as hexagons rather than circles, allowing a more volume-friendly 4,294,967,296 objects to be recognised.
Nonetheless, Surface applications can interact with items they don't recognise. Here little streams would run across the screen, then trace around objects you placed on it. In the corner you can see the icons that send you back to the menu.
A closer look at how the Lonely Planet app interacts with objects. Note it doesn't understand Amnesia Razorfish's card, but does understand the passport — object recognition is done on a per application basis.
More from the Lonely Planet app. Here the demonstrator is looking for things to do in Paris, but is using tokens down the right-hand side as filters. At the top is a baby in a pram, the middle a child, the bottom an adult. The baby and child keep things family friendly — take them away, and you'll be given advice on night spots you can visit.