Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Future of Microsoft Surface, Part 3

In part 1 I discussed how Microsoft Surface's business model seems extremely unprofitable when compared to Windows and Xbox business models.
In part 2 I compared Microsoft Surface to a SmartPhone prototype.

Now let's wrap this all up.

Consider the plans for the Surface SDK -- all the good multi-touch stuff is being baked into .NET 4 and will be available on any computer, not just special Microsoft Surfaces. Only the very unique vision system remains outside as an extra component. Windows 7 will have support for everything that Surface does, depending upon the hardware it runs on.

Surface is perfectly positioned for a transition to the highly profitable Windows business model upon the release of Windows 7. In fact, the Surface SDK and Windows 7 will be the same thing, so there won't be so much of a transition as a merger. Microsoft Surface will no longer be just a single product. Surface will become known as a brand of related products, just like Windows Mobile and the SmartPhone. The current Surface provides a model user experience which third-party manufacturers will replicate in their own Windows 7 Surface designs.

Microsoft created an entire business unit to gather data about and prepare the public for the Natural User Interface Revolution. The current Surface device is just the first step. The real potential of Surface will unleashed when hardware manufactures create their own version that run Windows 7.

So now after considering all of this, the big question is whether you should bother with the current Microsoft Surface. The answer is absolutely! Getting involved with Surface now gives you a huge head start in the upcoming NUI revolution. Usually prototype concepts (like a prototype SmartPhone) have limited access to hardware partners until it is released for mass distribution. In this case, the Surface is much more available and there is a rare opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

Very soon, Microsoft Surface is not just going to be a "big-ass coffee table" as some believe. It will be a whole range of products in many different forms, and those who prepare themselves will be able to take advantage. Are you ready?

(Thanks to Jonathan Brill for inspirational conversation that led to these ideas. We shared the basic thesis in this series and his post on Why the Failure of Surface is a Success for Microsoft. Subscribe to his blog if you haven't already, since he claims it is slightly more interesting than mine! :-O)


  1. I do wonder about this...will microsoft continue down the closed hardware system road.

    It goes completely against the company's developer-as-hero ethos and it's we defined channel marketing capability.


  2. I agree with your assessment of the future of Surface and the significance of the 1.0 hardware release.

    As I understand the Microsoft road map the Windows 7 /WPF 4.0 multi-touch and Surface APIs will merge into a single offering but there will continue to be aspects of the Surface SDK that are unique to that device. For example, object and tag recognition may not make it into the the Windows 7 / WPF 4.0 version right away. IF that's true than there will be a significant difference between the type of surface applications we can develop today and the kinds we can develop for Windows 7.

    I also want to back up what your saying about getting a jump on NUI. Or, in this case, multi-touch. After 15 years as a Java enterprise architect and developer I've completely changed directions and I am currently reinventing myself as a NUI designer and developer starting with Microsoft Surface and iPhone. That's how important I believe this change from GUI to NUI to be.

  3. Thanks for your comments!


    I imagine that if Microsoft opens up the Surface brand to external manufacturers (actually it will be inevitable since MT will be in .NET 4/Win7, except for the Surface logo maybe) then they will probably make the vision system components available to them as well. But you are right that NUI applications on MT Win7 hardware will be more limited than Surface.

    Interesting how you separated NUI and multi-touch. What do you think the difference is? (Reference: Gui + Touch != NUI)