The Blog

  • May 31, 2007
  • Microsoft ‘Surface’ surfaces

    Will it suffice?

    The line between a disruptive innovation and an innovation without a practical use is very thin and it is a fascinating area to explore. I have probably said it before, but these things can only be seen in retrospect. Did the innovation take off and become a permanent part of our lives like the automobile? Did it become a fad that was discarded after a while like the hoolahoop? It all depends on getting those first critical early adopters and generating some buzz. That’s sort of what Malcolm Gladwell was talking about in his book, “The Tipping Point.”

    One of those moments/products was introduced this week by Microsoft. The Microsoft Surface is sort of a table that acts like a computer and has lots of wireless connectivity built in. So devices like digital cameras and music players can communicate with the surface simply by placing them on the surface of the Surface. Imagine this, you put your camera on the Surface and it extracts your pictures for viewing, sorting, ordering prints or whatever else you do.  Words don’t do this idea justice so take a look at this short video at YouTube when you have a chance.

    The Surface is a cool idea for bringing together people and ideas, perhaps a future iteration will be big enough (this one’s about 30 inches) to replace the whiteboard and all those dried up markers that accumulate in conference rooms.  I expect there will be surfaces in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit particular needs.

    For example, Gordon Bell, computer scientist and guru emeritus at Digital Equipment Corporation, said in an article in the New Yorker recently that homes of the future might be built without windows because this kind of surface could be put in place to provide whatever view we want. An interesting idea.

    More practically, I wonder if it might be time for Microsoft to form a strategic partnership with some national newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, the list goes on but it is finite. Newspapers have been suffering from financial problems as people spend less time reading and more time in front of the TV. Nevertheless, TV can’t cover news with the same depth that a paper does and our understanding of reality suffers from the tunnel vision that TV provides.

    Microsoft might be on to something with the Surface that could save old line newspapers and the professional journalism that supports them.  One of the capabilities the Surface seems to offer is the ability to drill down into whatever is presented, perhaps much like hyperlinks.  That drill down is the kind of thing that would take newspapers and their advertising to a new and potentially lucrative level.

    Imagine seeing an ad for a vacation and being able to tap it with your finger to get more specific information. The alternative today is to make a call or hit a web site and you still might not get all the information you want. There’s also the risk that you’ll simply forget about it and circle back later only to find that you’ve missed a deadline.

    For now, Microsoft has brought to market a very interesting device that I expect will become an important tool for a lot of different applications. The Surface just may be the first really new technology innovation of the new century but we’ll only know that for sure in hindsight.

    Published: 17 years ago

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