Microsoft ‘Surface’ and the Ubiquitous Internet

A couple of days ago Ask’s Gary Price posted about Microsoft “Surface” and asked the question: What is it? Yesterday at the Wall Street Journal’s “All Things D” conference that question was apparently answered. Here’s the WSJ article (sub req’d):

. . . a computer designed like a table with a touch-screen. The system, called Surface and aimed initially for use in hotels and casinos, includes features that allow users to buy tickets to events, wirelessly retrieve and display photos and play games. It goes on sale later this year.

I have long been fascinated by Internet kiosks, tablets, microPCs and other devices that allow the extension of the fullness of the Internet experience into other places than home or office. I’ve often talked about a “two device scenario” in mobile, where one device is a phone and the other device is something that makes the Internet more generally accessible than the conventional mobile phone — or even smartphone — would.

Kiosks have been around for a long time and many people are skeptical of them. More recently, NearbyNow has put its shopping-search kiosks in malls and RippleTV is putting display screens in lots of locations. Neither of these is the Internet per se, but these examples and Microsoft Surface point they way to something very interesting in my mind.

Forget for a moment about all the “smart appliances” in the home that are supposed to one day have screens. Let’s talk about the “out of home” Internet. Mobile is crystallizing around a range of things: wifi Internet access on a laptop or other portable PC-type device, mobile phones, in-car/personal navigation devices and, maybe, another category . . . represented by the ability to put a low-cost touch screen almost anywhere.

Yahoo a few years ago to promote the launch of some of its new, dynamic mapping features put some kiosks around New York and San Francisco so people could do map-based lookups at bus stops and other public places. These were essentially mounted touch-screen panels. This captured my imagination and has stayed with me. I imaged a scenario where in the urban core of major cities people could access touch screens with Internet access or some more controlled version of Internet access and get generally the same experience and information they could get online from home or work.

(At various points over the past year or two, I’ve heard two pitches related to variations on this idea.) Or what about ubiquitous bank ATM machines offering Internet access or some form of it?

The local content and ad implications (even e-commerce) are obvious. None of this may ever come to pass — who’s going to bear the costs of setting up the infrastructure (Microsoft?) — but I think there’s something very intriguing to think about in all this . . .

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Related: Sony’s new flexible screens offer interesting possibilities . . .

… and here’s a Today Show video re Surface.


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