By now, we have seen previews of Microsoft's latest product named Surface. Steve Ballmer said that: “With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology..... We see this as a multibillion-dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror.” And many blogs have reviewed them. See David Pogue's post here. Jeff Han at NYU is one of the leading researcher on multi-touch interaction research.
Here is a good video from Popular Mechanics.
The challenge with any new technology innovation is thinking through the possible trajectories of evolution. Our initial reactions often is often simple questions such as: Who will buy it? Who needs it? How much will it cost? What products will it replace? etc. etc. Those are valid questions. Looking at it from the point of view of users (demand-side) and not technology providers (Microsoft, in this case), we could ask--what new functionality can we create and differentiate from our competitors? Not by embracing the standard technology but by adapting the functionality to differentiate and deliver new value. In that sense, demonstrations from vendors are either stylized (as in the video above) or limiting (because they do not fully understand how differently the features and functionality could be used).
It's far more important to see how the lead-users embrace the technology and show the benefits. Microsoft has clearly partnered with some interesting companies such as Harrah's Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and T-Mobile (may be others as well). I like to see early (honest) results from trials and experiments that demonstrate the business value (cost savings, customer satisfaction, increased revenue and profits etc.) Beyond the cool features of enlarging digital images and moving music around, we need to see hard-facts to make the business case to deploy such devices on large scale. We need more than testimonies from these companies surrounding the introduction of such new products. We need to see what they find as the numbers (and logic) supporting the business case they make to the hard-nosed CFOs.
This is a 21st century version of the business challenges of localized exploitation that I wrote in Sloan Management Review. In the early 1990s, the new technologies were airline reservation systems and inter-organizational order-entry systems (through EDI). Today, they are web 2.0 and multi-touch interaction computing. Technologies may have changed but the need to think through customer value (and competitive differentiation) has not becomes any less important.