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Tuesday, 09 February 2010 12:10

Microsoft Surface slips into Australia

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ANZ, Curtin University and Lonely Planet are among the early enterprise adopters of Microsoft Surface which the company officially released in Australia today - the 19th country in the world to get Surface after its May 2007 announcement.

Surface, which features a coffee table sized screen with 50 touch points, allows a wide number of users to interact using the screen. Depending on the application users of the table can collaborate and access, share or collect information.

Cameras under the screen collect images of objects placed on the Surface and integrate the image with applications.

According to Microsoft Australia managing director Tracey Fellows; 'This represents and fundamental shift in how we think about and use technology.'

With local entry level prices of developer units for $24,500 plus GST and the commercial units priced at $21,000 each, it might also require a shift in the way organisations are prepared to pay for technology. 

Internationally organisations including Barclays Bank, Emirates, Vodafone and Sheraton have been using the Surface while closer to home ANZ, Lonely Planet and Curtin University are among the early adopters. According to Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president of entertainment and devices, early enterprise applications hinge around; 'Helping business server their customers and manage costs,' although there are also a range of education and consumer applications anticipated for the system.

Kim Wisniewski, system engineer for future technology at West Australia's Curtin University, said that the institution was interested in exploring how Surface could be used to; 'push the student experience to a new level.'


He announced the start of the Curtin Surface Project which will bring together student groups, university faculties and Curtin's Office of Teaching and Learning in order to develop applications with a 'strong focus on the next generation learning space.' This might overcome some of the collaboration limitations of interactive whiteboards, he said.

Microsoft also demonstrated a Lonely Planet application which allows users to place their Lonely Planet VIP card on the Surface located in a retail store, which can then be used as a virtual folder for information accessed via the Surface but held in the cloud. Once the user takes their VIP card home, and inputs their VIP member number to the Lonely Planet application, all the information collected at the Surface becomes available to them on their own PC.

ANZ meanwhile has started experimenting with Surface.. According to Peter Dalton, the bank's group manager of innovation, the device is being explored for its potential to make 'banking simpler for our customers. We will be using the experience gained from Microsoft Surface to work out how we can use touch and surface based technologies to make managing money simpler and more exciting.'

At the launch today financial applications were nominated as one potential 'killer application' for the technology allowing financial advisers to sit at a Surface with clients and explore their various investment options.

Killer applications however will depend largely on Microsoft partners. The company yesterday announced four local partners: Amnesia Razorfish; nsquared; Object Consulting (which is working with ANZ); and Automatic Studio (which developed the Lonely Planet application).

In a somewhat unfortunate analogy Robbie Bach suggested that the value of Natural User Interfaces such as the Surface still needed to be explored, just as NASA had explored the moon and Burke and Wills had explored Australia. No doubt Microsoft will be hoping for a more successful exploration than that conducted by Messrs Burke and Wills who famously perished.

It will no doubt also be hoping that Apple's continued expansion of its touch screen range from an iPod to an iPhone to an iPad won't see iTable launched any time soon.


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