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Why Microsoft Surface Took So Long To Deploy 187

Posted by Zonk
from the delay-delay-delay dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Nearly a year after all the fanfare unveiling a new touchscreen tabletop interface, Microsoft's Surface computer will finally appear in select AT&T stores later this month. Popular Mechanics tech editor Glenn Derene, who first introduced us to Surface in May, seems to have done a complete 180 in this rant, blasting Microsoft for being more obsessed with Surface's novelty as a magnet for image-conscious partners while messing up a rare hardware device — and, surprisingly, the simple software he was told came with it. From Microsoft's official excuse in the article: 'It's actually been a good thing for us,' Pete Thompson, Microsoft's general manager for Surface, told me. 'We were anticipating that the initial deployments were going to be showcase pilots using our own software applications on units to drive traffic. What our partners have decided is that they want to skip that stage and go to an integrated experience where they build their own applications. That's pulled the timeline until this spring.'"
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Why Microsoft Surface Took So Long To Deploy

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  • civ4 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ionix5891 (1228718) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:09PM (#22954134)
    be cool to play civ4 on one of these yokes
    • Re:civ4 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:16PM (#22954252) Journal

      be cool to play civ4 on one of these yokes
      Um, while that's true, there's several more things I could think of that would be fun to do with this 'surface' technology. I just fear that Microsoft is going to make it expensive so that only the big boys can play with it.

      A lowly developer that wants build a hobby project where anyone with a surface can play chess virtually against someone? Tough. Exorbitant license fees or no surface for you!

      I remember in eighth grade trying to fathom how I would come up with $240 for a student license of Visual Studio! I can't imagine what these costs are going to be. And that's the sad thing, really, the neat stuff would all come from the hobbyists who still have an imagination that's not twisted towards profits.

      Think what kind of senior project a graphical artist could make with one of these things! I'd go to an art show where you get to interact with the art any day.

      To reiterate, I doubt your civilization 4 dreams will come true unless its creators decide the demand is big enough for them to drop megabucks developing another interface to the engine hoping that fans will splurge for the 'surface.'
      • by amliebsch (724858)
        I think you're a bit off-base. It will be materials and labor costs that make this hardware expensive, not licensing fees.
        • Re:civ4 (Score:4, Informative)

          by peragrin (659227) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @03:09PM (#22954936)
          it is a glass table, a mirror, a projector, and something similar to a wii remote. Add in some software, mostly to allow for multi-touch and your done.

          several researchers have been doing this for years. MSFT is just the first big name to commericialize it. other companies have been selling the same thing for years.

          Also MSFT's table is useless in brightly lit rooms. It needs a darkened room in order to be seen clearly.
          • There's a bit more to it. At least I thought there was. Supposedly they can do things like recognize and access Bluetooth devices placed on them, and read bar codes or even image data from objects placed on them. What you're describing sounds like a table sized iPhone. Is that all they are?
          • Re:civ4 (Score:4, Insightful)

            by WaltBusterkeys (1156557) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @06:13PM (#22957380)
            A high-resolution display of that size is pretty expensive on its own. Add a waterproof touch sensor on top, plus the GPU required to run the graphics on that kind of system, and we're talking some substantial hardware investment. And don't forget that the touchscreen has to be near-instantaneous and support many objects touching it at once.

            I'm sure MSoft will also try to make a killing on the software, but there is still a pretty significant hardware cost here.
          • by Trevahaha (874501)
            It's not too bad in a regularly lit room, it just doesn't do too well with direct sunlight (like most projected images). It's surprisingly vivid when you use it in a regular room.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Itchyeyes (908311)

        To reiterate, I doubt your civilization 4 dreams will come true unless its creators decide the demand is big enough for them to drop megabucks developing another interface to the engine hoping that fans will splurge for the 'surface.'

        Well, the video game industry is something like a $14 billion/year industry these days and developers have dropped megabucks into systems in the past that showed far less promise for gaming applications than the surface.

        I do think the GP is being a little bit shortsighted though. The true potential of the Surface for gaming is not ports of old PC games, just like all those PS2 ports on the Wii are not utilizing the system's full potential either.

        When I think of gaming on the Surface, I imagine something t

      • by Hatta (162192)
        Um, while that's true, there's several more things I could think of that would be fun to do with this 'surface' technology

        Porn?
      • by mobby_6kl (668092)
        >Exorbitant license fees or no surface for you!

        I think you're a little confused here. This is Microsoft, not Apple. It's the Surface, not a giant iphone. Visual Studio might cost something (and there are, BTW, free versions of VS), but there's absolutely no licensing you need in order to develop for Windows (of the NT or Mobile kind). Get gcc, your favorite IDE, or just a HEX editor and start writing whatever you want.

        I'm not familiar with Xbox 360 development but I'm pretty sure the conditions aren't an
  • Dude! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Drakin020 (980931) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:13PM (#22954194)
    It's a big ass table!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY [youtube.com]
  • by Lxy (80823)
    They were waiting for SP1 to ship.
  • by mugnyte (203225) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:19PM (#22954316) Journal

      He's not really criticizing MS, but more like chiding them gently. I'm a little underwhelmed by Surface. If you've ever had a coffee table that you can't put your legs under, you know how awkward they are to sit at. Plus, this price seems awfully exaggerated.

      I like ROSIE's surface much more, although the direct screen (instead of projection) makes the resolution an issue, but hopefully that'll get addressed as hardware goes up.

      Really, if you took a touchscreen laid flat, added a bunch of multi-touch capability and some touch tags for wireless pseudo-plugs, why couldn't this be built by anyone?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by e2d2 (115622)
      If anything good has come of Surface it is showing the "digital sign" market that this type of device will lead to more interaction.

      Walking through a mall you see a digital sign, walk up to it touch it and it gives you more information. This is all available now, but things like surface get it exposed to levels that make decisions.

      I work for a marketing company and as soon as surface was released our customers were asking for them. So I'd guess the interest is there. It's not specifically surface they want,
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spud603 (832173)

      Really, if you took a touchscreen laid flat, added a bunch of multi-touch capability and some touch tags for wireless pseudo-plugs, why couldn't this be built by anyone?
      done and done [wordpress.com]
    • by CrazyTalk (662055)
      I have had the chance to play with surface (there is one where I work in building 86) and am VERY impressed. Everyone that stops by to play with it comments on how cool it is, and is laughing and smiling the entire time. Seriously, I would love to have this in my house.
    • by rhakka (224319)
      I have no idea, and I can say that I, for one, am really, really hot to make my desk top my actual computing desktop. Then, most of the piles of crap I have on it would disspear.

      and, full size CAD with multi touch and hands-on drawing? awww yeah....
  • Craplets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sarhjinian (94086) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:22PM (#22954338)
    This is why Apple's tight control of their whole ecosystem is a good thing: you don't generally see them putting their "partner's" need to shove content at customers above the user experience.

    You can tell Apple's _customers_ are it's actual customers.** Microsoft's partners and developers are it's customers, and it shows.

    Look at Windows Mobile: you get a reasonable platform that's perverted by hardware "partners" and their singular inability to write crash-resistant software, and then further mangled by the carriers, who seem addicted to penny-pinching revenue-ware.

    Yes, it's "open" to developers, but as a manager of a fleet, the first thing I'd like to do is strip the device down to Microsoft's core platform, without the craplets the vendors see fit to add to it.

    With Apple, you get a locked-down device. AT&T can't rebrand it (if they had their way, it'd be the "AT&T A7530", and it'd have six different ways for AT&T to sell me overpriced ringtones or web forms), nor can the Taiwanese hardware manufacturer load it with battery management software that misspells the word "Battery".



    ** you see this with free software as well, but the customer base isn't quite the same demographic as Apple's.
    • Yeah, I wish it were impossible to do any modification of any electronic device. You make a great argument for it. Imagine how cool it would be if we couldn't install programs on our PCs. You've got me psyched about this. LET'S DO IT!
      • by sarhjinian (94086)
        Put it this way: Apple makes appliances. I don't want to be able to recompile the kernel that runs my microwave, I just want it to nuke stuff and not piss me off by offering me a hundred different settings in sixteen menus for every permutation of food and weight, but no easy way to say "nuke on high for one minute".

        Do you understand now?

        Surface should be something similar: a zero-effort experience for the end user. Sacrificing usability so some geek can change themes (or worse, so a carrier can bitchslap
    • AT&T can't rebrand it (if they had their way, it'd be the "AT&T A7530",

      Because the Apple name is so worthless? Please, AT&T would rather label all their phones Apple than AT&T. They paid a lot just for the name iPhone already.

  • by downix (84795) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:25PM (#22954372) Homepage
    How long before someone slaps that LCARS from Star Trek desktop theme onto one of these?
    • by westlake (615356)
      How long before someone slaps that LCARS from Star Trek desktop theme onto one of these?

      considering the pounding the Enterprise bridge is expected to endure ... does anyone else think a touch sensitive interface is incredibly stupid?

      LCARS didn't seem to have any visible interlocks or physical barriers.

      one slip of your fingers brings downs the shields, puts the engines into reverse, and jettisons the warp core.

  • Testing... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AioKits (1235070) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:26PM (#22954388)
    ...I wonder if they tested this with anyone who owns cats. Mine jump up on the coffee table all the time. Does anyone know if this thing will pick up pets?
    • by gnick (1211984)

      Does anyone know if this thing will pick up pets?
      I'd imagine that this thing will be roughly as cat-resistant as your keyboard.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by AioKits (1235070)

        I'd imagine that this thing will be roughly as cat-resistant as your keyboard.

        Great, now when I come home I gotta check my computer to make sure the cats didn't put kitty porn on it...
        *HIDE*
      • I'd imagine that this thing will be roughly as cat-resistant as your keyboard.

        Not necessarily. From the demo video, it would seem the table has some degree of recognition, so it can tell what's touching it. As long as it's flexible enough, theres no reason why it couldn't do image recognition of the cat and refuse to respond to it. That reminds me of the Flo Control project: http://www.quantumpicture.com/Flo_Control/flo_control.htm [quantumpicture.com]

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      ...I wonder if they tested this with anyone who owns cats. Mine jump up on the coffee table all the time. Does anyone know if this thing will pick up pets?
      And if it does, how can you upload a ringtone to them ?
      • by westlake (615356)
        Does anyone know if this thing will pick up pets?

        I can think of many reasons why you want a system that could interact with a service animal or companion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by longacre (1090157)
      Good luck writing a driver for a cat.
  • Isn't the screen itself rather large? Last time I checked, quality LCD screens above 22" are quite expensive. Sure, not $5k to $10k, but still. How much even is a good sized plasma screen these days? People seem quite willing to pay upwards of $2500 for it; perhaps it is a little expensive, but not incredibly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nlawalker (804108)
      The screen is projected. Multi-touch is enabled through processing images from multiple infrared cameras under the surface. This technique allows for as many touch points as processor power will allow.
  • Development (Score:3, Funny)

    by JBMcB (73720) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:37PM (#22954502)
    "What our partners have decided is that they want to skip that stage and go to an integrated experience where they build their own applications."

    So, the delay was getting an SDK out the door? Holy cow, MS pumps out half a dozen SDKs a month, it took a whole year to create an SDK for a table? I'm guessing they didn't build this thing from scratch, either - it's probably .NET and DirectX mixed with ActiveSync and their Bluetooth stack - I can't wait for the first bluescreens being posted on flickr...

    • by DannyO152 (544940)
      Am I wrong in noticing that the possible customers were saying to Microsoft, primarily a software company, to not write the applications? Ouch.
    • by Trevahaha (874501)
      The SDK has been done for a while. What takes a while is developing good software for the platform. The team had created the Surface demo software, but it takes a few months for another vendor to create software specifically for AT&T's use.
  • A novel kiosk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fred fleenblat (463628) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:41PM (#22954544) Homepage
    TFA shows it being used as a sales tool in a cell phone store. While it has a cool GUI, it's usage is that of a sales kiosk. If that's the best use they can think of for this technology something is very wrong.

    It may simply not be suitable for long-term use so they picked an application where people would interact with it and leave the store before they got tired of craning their necks and holding their arms up in the air.
    • Re:A novel kiosk (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JBMcB (73720) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @03:14PM (#22955002)
      It would be a cool interface for games. Think of a hacked interface playing supreme commander, zooming in and out of different areas of the battlefield. Get a bunch of them together and it would be some expensive fun. If they can get the unit cost down - maybe some super-cool internet cafe furniture? How about some custom chat/game apps for high end club tables?

      There are all kinds of cool niche markets for this thing. Microsoft's creativity stifling bureaucracy is in full effect in marketing this thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeremy_Bee (1064620)
      One thing I don't understand based on the description of the *use* of the Surface table at AT&T is exactly how it will help them show off cell phones.

      The original demo showed it recognising (some) cell phones placed on the table and so forth, but those were real live cell phones out of someone's pocket. Every cell phone I have seen at a store, AT&T or otherwise, is either behind glass or a tethered "dead" model. It simply won't be as easy as the customer helping themselves to cell phones and placi
      • I don't believe that demo was really recognising the phones (or credit cards) through some amazing sensing technology. I'm almost certain that these objects had some barcode or detail on the back that the Surface read to determine what they were.

        I'd like to be wrong, 'cause there's some cool stuff that flows from true object recognition.
  • by athloi (1075845) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:43PM (#22954566) Homepage Journal
    Really expensive machines without practical function are almost always proof of concept. The MS guys know this isn't ready for prime time, and they want more time to test it so they don't end up giving away free units to replace fried ones, like with the Xbox 360.

    It's like an Apple Lisa (pre-Macintosh, even more expensive, unreliable and pompous than a Mac) or the NeXT cube: great ideas, the first to bring them to market, but still not fit into a market niche. Market niche is what Microsoft does really well.

    They will trot this out to try to gain the cool points, then find out a way to apply the technology to a tablet computer that also can prop itself up like a mini-table.
  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#22954584) Homepage

    I still think Roughly Drafted had it right in a post [roughlydrafted.com] last year.

    Surface took longer, was more expensive, and is uglier than the iPhone. The iPhone uses real touch sensitivity, while Surface uses cameras and a projection screen. Surface had interesting tricks like identifying objects, but it did that through essentially 8 dot bar codes.

    So here we are, a year later. Surface has been no where to be seen. It is now coming to 4 AT&T stores in large cities, where it will do next to nothing.

    You can compare phones. Neat. A normal kiosk could do that (as the article points out). The more interesting abilities of Surface (like collaboration and such) won't come out in that. You can only compare two phones at once? There are only 8 or the (what, 20+) phones AT&T sells that will work with it? And how long before people steal some of the special phones (with the magic bar codes or whatever) thus rendering it a big expensive table? Or will those phones be tied up with leashes also?

    It's a semi-interesting technology, that isn't going anywhere because of the management. Is anyone surprised? This is how basically every tech demo ends up. We never see it, or it gets managed to death.

    They should have just started selling them to the (business) public at a high price with an SDK and just let people figure it out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PPH (736903)

      So here we are, a year later. Surface has been no where to be seen. It is now coming to 4 AT&T stores in large cities, where it will do next to nothing.
      They can use them as nice tables for setting up their iPhone displays.
      • by stubear (130454)
        Laugh all you want but go to an Apple store and buy a big ticket item and take a look at the handhelds they use to "order" the product. I bought a Mac Mini a few months ago and the sales guy pulled out a symbol handheld running Windows CE (try as they might with a custom OSX like UI for the app, the little keyboard icon in the lower right gave it away) to have someone in the back room grab one and bring it out. Why weren't they using the iPod touch or iPhone with a custom app on top of it to do this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by amliebsch (724858)

      The iPhone uses real touch sensitivity, while Surface uses cameras and a projection screen.

      What kind of fanboy nonsense is this? Is there some kind of platonic ideal of touch sensing technology? In what conceivable way is touch sensing by capacitance more "real" than touch sensing by infrared image processing? If it senses touch, it's "real" touch sensitivity, no?

      • by MBCook (132727)

        I understand why they did it, to a degree. Making touchscreen that large is probably very tough.

        My point was that Apple engineered a complete little device in a short amount of time, and Microsoft pieced a bunch of off the shelf hardware together in a empty box and decided to charge $10k for it.

        It's simply that Microsoft took the easy way out, engineering wise, compared to what Apple had to go through to get their touchscreen right. MS's job wasn't easy. I'm just questioning the amount of time and money i

      • by imroy (755)

        The iPhone uses real touch sensitivity, while Surface uses cameras and a projection screen.
        What kind of fanboy nonsense is this?

        It's Roughly Drafted fanboy nonsense. That's really all that needs to be said.

      • I think part of the point was that "real" touch sensitive technology doesn't require such a great thickness to work, and can also distinguish real touching (as in a finger) over some other object. Now I can see an argument that being able to have a wider range of detection would work better, but I can also see some potential problems with a table (someting you may well feel compelled to set something down on) getting a little confused by stuff you set down. What happens if you set a pair of gloves on it?
  • by iamacat (583406) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @02:57PM (#22954762)
    It's not unusual for a truly innovative technology to take 10 years to develop. Original IBM PC, first Internet connections, the first web site or the first AJAX app were all not very useful for anything practical. While Surface demo looks cool, it's not easy to develop affordable hardware or software that does more than shows little lighted ripples around objects put on the top. Besides obvious games, most software will be probably rather high and and specialized, like CAD design or astronomical modeling tools. It will therefore take a while to develop.

    How badly do we need multitouch for e-mail, web browsing or posting on slashdot?
    • by dave562 (969951)
      I already know one guy who would be all over this thing. He is obsessed with real time management of his organization. They GPS track all of their vehicles and assets. He'd be head over heels for the table. I know the first thing he'd ask for after getting a table. "Project what I see on the table onto the wall."
    • Original IBM PC...not very useful for anything practical

      You mean the IBM 5100 [wikipedia.org]? My folks had one doing number crunching for multi-currency sales and inventory back in 1975.

      That year I only used it to play games, but later I learned about programming by printing some of those programs and figuring out how to convert the code to work on my Apple ][.
  • Drafting table (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Fishbulb (32296)
    They way they have these set up, it looks to me as annoying as table-top arcade consoles from the 80's. Yuck!

    I do think it could be nice as a drafting table, however.

  • Surface has its virtues:

    It can read a dot or bar code.

    No need for Bluetooth to interact with ordinary physical objects.

    The "surface" could be sheet glass or plastic purchased from Home Depot.

    The core tech - the video camera - is ridiculously cheap. Use "solid state" projection and you have a very rugged and reliable device that could be installed damn near anywhere.

    In principle, Surface should be scalable to any size, shape, angle or placement you find useful or decorative.

    The OS is off-the-shelf Windo

  • "We've made a table."

    "A table?"

    "Yeah, it does all of these neat things. It can recognize objects, respond to Bluetooth devices, run .Net and do all of these cool graphical tricks that we have spent the last year tinkering with. Actually, it kind of reminds me of wall thingy in Minority Report and functions kind of like the iPhone's multitouch."

    "Thats it? Look, if you can make people pay a subscription fee to use software they have written for it or to use any software outside of the OS we might talk. It jus
  • Build your own... (Score:3, Informative)

    by minsk (805035) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @07:56PM (#22958362)

    There are lots of research labs working with low-cost multi-touch-sensitive tables. At this point, one can practically build such a table for a few hundred dollars (plus a computer).

    I literally spent today demonstrating my lab's table. An early prototype is shown at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doK66IYG0Ug [youtube.com], and instructions for building one are at http://open-ftir.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]. Unfortunately the pictures and video from today's open house are not up yet, but they should be shortly (search for "Equis lab").

    There are also lots of free libraries for handling the input. Mine (EquisFTIR) happens to be Windows-only and aimed at Microsoft XNA developers. There are lots of portable ones, often built on Intel's OpenCV library: check out http://nuigroup.com/ [nuigroup.com] for more information.

    Couple the table with some object-recognition libraries, and you could probably build yourself a Surface-equivalent with a few hundred dollars and nothing but FOSS.

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