Microsoft Corp. has chosen what it sees as the next generation in PC designs -- a computer the size and shape of a coffee table with a flat, touch-screen display -- as the third major product it has designed and is branding for the consumer electronics market.
The company today revealed its 5-year-old "Milan" project, a computer that uses wireless autosync and touch-screen technology to allow users and devices to interact with files and applications using a tabletop screen. The company designed and is branding the computer, as it did with consumer electronics products such as the Xbox game console and the Zune MP3 player.
To accompany Milan, Microsoft renamed a team within its Entertainment and Devices Division called New Consumer Products as "Surface Computing." General Manager Pete Thompson leads the group, which has worked quietly in new projects to give computers and other devices more human interfaces.
Microsoft's tabletop PC
"The idea is, how do we start to blur the lines between the digital world and the physical world?" Thompson said. The team's projects have been hush-hush, which is why Microsoft revealed the true name of the group now. Milan is the group's first commercial product.
As demonstrated by Thompson and his team, Milan needs no wires to synchronize with devices, and users don't need a mouse to communicate with it. By placing hands on a 30-in. horizontal display, users can move around photos or videos, flip them over or display them from different angles. Bluetooth-enabled devices such as mobile phones, wireless cameras and the Zune media player can also communicate directly with Milan simply by being placed on the screen. Applications will automatically launch and open the correct file library, such as music or photos, depending on the device.
The prototype the company showed has a black body with a 30-in. horizontal display and stands 22 in. in height, 21 in. in depth and 42 in. in length. It runs a version of Windows Vista with the Microsoft Surface custom infrastructure that allows for the touch-screen and autosync capabilities, but the operating system is transparent to end users.
Before introducing Milan to a broad consumer market, Microsoft is targeting market segments, such as leisure/entertainment, hospitality and retail environments. The product won't be offered in full production until next year, but Milan's first customers -- Harrah's Entertainment Inc., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. and T-Mobile USA Inc. -- should deploy the first computers by year's end.
Bill Gates demonstrates the multitouch screen technology used in Microsoft's new tabletop "Surface" computer. (Video courtesy of Microsoft Corp.)
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