Microsoft's multitouch Surface tabletop computer may be coming to an AT&T store near you. In the first public deployment of the technology, AT&T will put 22 of Microsoft's Surface computers in four cities around the United States on April 17.
When customers place one or more of eight mobile devices -- not yet including the Apple iPhone -- labeled with a special optical tag onto the Surface, the computer will recognize the objects and let customers explore device features. AT&T has also created another customized application that will allow customers to explore its coverage map, zooming in and out and navigating across the country by using hand gestures on the Surface's multitouch screen.
Initially, AT&T will deploy the Surface computers in two stores in New York as well as one each in San Antonio, Atlanta, and San Francisco. If customers warm to the application, AT&T is looking to expand to more cities and stores moving forward.
In the future, customers will be able to place their own phones onto the Surface and drag and drop ring tones, graphics, video, and other content by dragging graphics on the screen toward their phones with a simple flicking hand gesture.
Kyle Warnick, Microsoft's group marketing manager for Surface, said in an interview that the company is taking a phased approach to the rollout of Surface in order to better understand use cases and user experience and ensure high quality.
For now, the company will continue to work with only select commercial and retail companies, including Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Harrah's Entertainment, and T-Mobile, all of which were announced as early customers last year and were expected to have deployed Surface computers by the end of 2007.
Warnick said Microsoft will announce additional commercial deployments within the next few months, but declined to give specifics. Harrah's is developing a number of Surface applications, including a bowling game and virtual concierge application that will allow customers to pay for drinks using a promotional rewards card the Surface can recognize.
"This is an entirely new experience, and it's new technology as well," Warnick said. "We want to make sure we get it right for those commercial partners so down the line we can have even greater experiences with other partners."
Microsoft has also seen significant interest in the Surface from schools and enterprises, and Warnick says the company hopes to release a consumer version of Surface within three to five years. In order to do so, Microsoft will likely have to get Surface's price down from the estimated $5,000 to $10,000 cost per machine of the initial releases.
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