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Microsoft Surface launch

Years after Microsoft demoed its touchscreen table, Surface has finally had its Australian release.

Staff Writers
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1 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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2 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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3 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Tracey Fellows, MD of Microsoft Australia introduces Surface and its opportunities.

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4 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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5 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

There's already a number of international partners involved — just not in this country.

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6 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

The list of partners is slightly shorter in Australia.

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7 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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8 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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9 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Putting down the Lonely Planet passport opened up your account, while throwing down the Las Vegas guide gave access to information and images from the location.

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10 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

ANZ's application started well and looked impressive...

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11 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

But then ended up being about tennis. Here the demonstrators could rotate the globe in the middle by touching and dragging it, then getting a tennis player up to match their guessed country of origin.

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12 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Surface is strong enough to stand on; it's ruggedised and built for highly populated areas like airports and restaurants.

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13 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Iain McDonald from Amnesia Razorfish showed off a potential use of business cards enabled for Surface: place a card down, and the personal details, Twitter feed and a Flickr account appears.

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14 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

The table itself, in screen saver mode. It's just a pond, if you tap ripples spread across it. There were no fish. Tap a corner and Surface wakes up.

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15 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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16 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

You can view photos, rotate and move them around, watch videos, and draw on the top of any of them.

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17 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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18 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

The Surface code turns up again on Lonely Planet's objects. The top item is its "Passport", which allows you to log in to your account.

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19 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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20 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

nsquared's learning game. Name the animal in the circle by moving the letter tiles into the slots, get points.

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21 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

No one played Heart and Soul, but the ominous phrase "Guitar Hero" was mentioned at this point.

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22 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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23 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

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.

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24 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

A closer look at some of the physical objects.

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25 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

More from the ANZ Tennis app.

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26 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Air Hockey! Something tells us this won't entirely replace the full-sized physical game, although you need pretty quick reflexes — you have to tap on the puck itself to stop it.

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27 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

Building electrical circuits with Surface, and checking validity. You can even attach a virtual multimeter to test what you've done wrong.

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28 of 28 Craig Simms/CNET Australia

The underside of Surface revealed six USB ports, a card reader, component and VGA out, and Ethernet. The USB stick is for Bluetooth interaction. This will be sealed in commercial deployment.

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