Got something to tell you about this afternoon. Something I think is very exciting and well, its really, really, really exciting and its something that I played a bit role in but good enough and something I had to keep my trap shut about until today.
See this thing?
This translucent tub a.k.a. coffee table like device is called Microsoft Surface and it is not only a very cool product but a potentially (and I emphasize potentially) an industry disrupter should certain conditions be met (see later for that).
But first what it is.
What It Is?
Microsoft Surface formerly known as Milan is hardware - a computer, customer DLP cameras, and software including Vista plus special apps and special layers built on top of Vista that combined (not shaken or stirred) will give you something that provides an immersive experience for customers and a paradigm for the melding of the physical and virtual worlds in a very tactile way. - a new kind of environment for the prosumers amongst you.
What? is probably all you can say at this point, so lets imagine a bit of a scenario:
You have your digital camera with a 4GB SD card loaded with photos. Some are really awesome. Some suck royally. Some are on the cusp of whatever standards you set for "okay." You need to check them out and print the awesome ones, delete the bad ones and decide what to do about the cuspy ones. So you take your digital camera and drop it on this surface - well, place it on the surface. You take your forefinger and press it lightly to the surface right by your actual camera and sorta pull at the camera with your finger moving across the surface. Out comes ALL your photos.
And yes, I've seen that in action (you'll know why in a bit) and it looks magical when it comes out of the camera onto the surface with all the photos that were residing on your SD card. Once the photos are sitting on the Surface surface, you can manipulate them to your hearts content. Put them in any order you want. Expand or contract their size by using the "pinch" technique that Steve Jobs claims that Apple invented for the iPhone. (BTW, its no coincidence that Microsoft released the Surface today, about three weeks before the iPhone. Take that Apple!) Once you decide how you want to handle the photos you can group them in a group or individually lay them out and push them with that forefinger and up pops a customized menu that says maybe "print" or "delete" or, if its a commercial app - "purchase." You can move them to a shopping basket in the commercial version by dragging them over with your finger and they automatically will carry out any action that the shopping cart needs to do like total up a price with tax for each copy of the photo, etc. When you're done, you simply gather 'em all up and whoosh, use that forefinger to slide them back into the camera.
I can't do this the justice it deserves so here's a video I on YouTube that Microsoft is using to show what this does. Watch the whole thing. I can attest to the fact that it really does this. This isn't hoked up special effects.
How It Works
In a nutshell, the customer DLP cameras sense objects, hand gestures and touch. This becomes the "user input" that is processed by the computer and software that sits under the table and on top of a Vista operating system. The results of the processing are displayed on the 30" screen that you see in the above video using rear projection (no, not like parking your butt on a copier).
The system can also recognize tagged objects so that if you have a tagged wine bottle for example, you can place the wine on the surface and up will pop all the info on the wine, the vineyard, the drinkability of the wine, suggested food pairings and you can even order the foods right from the suggested pairings by dragging the food name to a order area on the surface.
I saw ALL of this.
Why Do I Give A Damn?
Actually, for two reasons. First, I think that this could be an environment creator that could affect how you interact with your "life environment" rather than just a physical object like a computer. It also can span the space that links work and home quite easily given future likely iterations of this thing. Second, I had some input into the marketing and experience discussion around this thing that seemed to be taken seriously.
About four months ago, I got an email from Kyle Warnick, a senior manager of marketing for Microsoft's Consumer Entertainment group (that's what they do, not what they're called. This is the XBox 360, Zune crowd). This email asked me if I'd be interested in participating in an advisory capacity (on a small very limited council) related to something that Microsoft was doing that would blow me away though not exactly the way that Kyle, who is a very nice guy and a real asset to Microsoft, put it. But he couldn't tell me about it more unless I signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
Sounded....mysterious, but I figured "whatthehell" and signed one.
Back then it was Milan and it did blow me away.
I found out, much to my delight that I had been selected to the Advisory Council along with among others a software specialist for the hospitality industry, an experiential architect and a college prof, because my blog indicated that I was VERY strong on the customer experience side and the CRM reputation I had didn't hurt anything (first time for THAT one!! :-))
That was a nice ego boost.
So I hopped a plane to Redmond, we met for a day, I learned a lot, hopefully contributed something and then stayed at the Westin Belleview WA which got me the shower heads I now use for my own home's showers (NO. I didn't steal them. I ordered them. Really). The discussion was informative, spirited and made me realize that these guys were onto something I thought was important. The only disconcerting thing was that the consumer experience side of Microsoft didn't talk at all to the CRM side of Microsoft and that could be a roadblock to at least what I saw as the grand scheme for this in the future.
But that was the only oddity. The rest went swimmingly, old chaps and chappesses.
But what I learned I had to keep to my New York big mouthed self until today. So I did.
But as of today, now I'm able to say that I'm on the Microsoft Surface Advisory Council. I guess.
But enough of my ego.
Microsoft Surface is potentially important and maybe even disruptive (in a good way).
Minimally, it can shift the paradigm for how we interact with devices much as the weakly business-featured but uniquely usable Apple iPhone will do for mobile devices. The form and features are both practical and stylish and are just outright cool to play with and use.
Initially its uses are revolving around "concierge" services in mostly the hospitality industry with first-cut partners like Harrahs and Starwood Hotels and Resorts among others. For example, Harrahs, as the official Microsoft press release states
"...guests can reserve tickets to an Elton John concert, review the menu at chic eatery Bradley Ogden, take a tour of the world famous PURE nightclub, book a luxurious spa treatment or redeem Total Rewards loyalty program credits... 'visit' multiple (Harrah's) venues and plan itineraries without ever getting up from their table."
But that's just a beginning, something for a first generation of device and partners. The possibilities for a seamless 24X7 set of uses life experience using your finger (so to speak) are limited by only the imagination here and are particularly rich because of the Bluetooth and 802.11g wireless compatibility. The only real limitation that the first generation device has is that while multiple individuals can move items simultaneously on the screen, the default result is the last one - meaning that it works in serial when it comes to what it does finally.
To make that a LOT clearer. Think of fingerpainting (a test app we saw). If I and two others are happily fingerpainting away at the same time, the color that all of us are fingerpainting in is the last color that was touched in the palette by any one of us. There is no individual biometric recognition of gestures and touch yet. But its only Gen One, people, give 'em a chance.
Once Again, Environments and Ecosystems
In March, I did a Steppin' Out profile of Microsoft where I outlined what I saw as their big picture grand strategy - the creation of environments and uses of entire ecosystems to develop those environments. Microsoft Surface supports that exact supposition in a major way. In order to get this picture, think of the following:
- The customer's idea of value (meaning the human being's) isn't always utilitarian or financial. Beauty, coolness, tactile sensations that lead to a pleasurable feeling - all are part of how a customer might find some true value in a rich experience. Here's a chart that comes from the Making of Meaning by various authors from Cheskin Associates on what provides value to people.
- Style is a part of how human beings think about technology. For you long time blog readers, remember the Turay Ultrasuede/Intel study that showed that 76% of the respondents who were technology purchasers felt that the technology had to reflect their personal lifestyle. Not sure of that? Read Engadget Mobile every day and tell me how it is humanly possible to produce that many mobile devices for style?
- You engage more fervently and frequently when your mind, emotions and senses are engaged, not just one or the other of those.
- Human beings are human beings, not workers by day, consumers by night and on breaks; not mommies and daddies around kids and then advocates around social causes, and then constituents around politicians and then couch potatoes watching TVs. Their expectations as human beings - a holistic set of expectations that might be colored by their particular environment carry into all aspects of their life. So for example, if there is an expectation as a consumer that the company they are dealing with will listen to them, then there is an expectation that the politician will listen to them too. There is also an expectation that the tools that they use to trash the companies that DON'T listen to them will be available to get those politicians when they don't listen, too. So where they differ is in how they experience perhaps the same thing. Maybe one is a good dad and another isn't as good. One is a liberal and another a conservative. Each has hopes, dreams, aspirations, expectations, stresses, loves, hates, likes, dislikes that differ from the next by degree and by what it actually is, but the individuals themselves are not split into some series of schizoid circumstantial identities. Consequently an environment that can support and encompass a person's lifestyle during the day and night so to speak, can can provide them with a unique and facile experience becomes an environment that that individual wants.
Microsoft Surface is one of the first devices that can meet that latter objective - support the individual's control over his environment through the engagement of his mind, emotions and senses.
I don't want to make this too lofty. After all its a piece of technology, when it all boils down to it, but its an exciting one with actual possibilities - unrealized as of yet, but possibilities.
Very promising. But, it could fail too.
- Microsoft, as of now, has a goodly number of partners, but needs to expand their partnerships greatly and quickly so they can get buy in from more than the hospitality industry. I URGE them (already have) to begin to explore a partnership with Rearden Commerce which has a highly developed service oriented architecture and has 135,000 business services ranging from car rentals to event planning linked to it AND a deal with American Express that makes it available to all Amex corporate customers. This is the ideal platform for a partnership and provides value to both.
- Start prettifying the device (still a bit tub like though not bad) and start looking into providing a mobile version down the road (if Microsoft is not doing it already)
- Build up a large open source developers community here - this is the type of things that stoke a neo-developer's juices. The more applications and games that are successfully developed for this the better - and the sooner the better.
- Integrate this into a web 2.0 strategy. Because of the wireless capabilities,the possibilities for collaboration are to die for. Fix that lack of biometric recognition problem, though.
This is just the beginning of something that is actually worth watching and keeping up with. There is a lot to get one's arms around because of the change in paradigm. Maybe tactile interactions aren't a big deal to you.
This level of interaction should be.
Microsoft Surface has three things going for it:
And THAT is very cool.
And maybe even important.
Glad to be aboard.