[Microsoft Surface, which I saw last time in Paris.]
In my recent post, I talked about Microsoft’s “next being idea” as thus:
Whatever TV becomes in the next century, Microsoft wants to own it. Or at least, own a huge chunk of it. And that battle will be fought and won [or lost] sometime in the next decade.
Then an anonymous commenter quite rightly pointed out: “Sorry but the real battlefield is mobile phones (compare growth of mobile phones vs. desktop vs. TV and you will see my point)…” To which I replied:
Anonymous, yeah, phones is another big one. Of course, I did say, “Whatever TV becomes”, and you could argue that maybe the TV and the phone will evolve into a third ubiquitous thing.
And then lets not forget other household items- fridges, tables, AC units and the like.
Which explains why seeing the new Microsoft Surfaces table in Paris the other month, when Steve Ballmer made his big announcement about Microsoft entering the ad game on a major scale, got me thinking.
Why did it appear then and there? During that announcement? I knew something was up, but at the time could not find the words for it. Until now.
Here’s what I’m thinking. Though I’m not techie, technology obviously plays big part of my life. Mainly through interfacing with my  laptop [a Macbook],  my MP3 music player [an iPod],  and a telephone [Nokia]. I don’t own a TV, but I could see one day owning  Apple TV or an Xbox, i.e. something for the living room. And then when I’m working in an office, there are  the company servers; something I know very little about.
So basically, when people like me interact directly with computers, it’s mostly via these 5 main objects. Laptop, iPod, cellphone, the living room entertainment TV thing, and the office servers.
But remember, Microsoft Surface is just in its infancy. Right now it’s just about $30K coffee tables. But give it ten years, it could be something much more cheaper and ubiquitous. Instead, we could be surfing the net not just on TV screens, laptops and hand-held devices, but on cocktail tables in bars. Or the mirror in our dressing room. Or bathroom tiles in the shower. On vacuum cleaners. Or even on the sides of Coke cans.
People my age, when they think of TV, they think of a nice big box in the living room. Some of us are just beginning to think of TV in terms of something we watch on our computers.
But something on the side of a Coke can?
You may intelligently argue the iPod beats the Zune. You may intelligently argue that Gmail beats Outlook Express. You may intelligently argue that Sun’s open source servers run better than Microsoft servers. And you may also intelligently argue that Mcrosoft’s new advertising plan won’t beat out AdSense. Not everybody may agree with, but hey, as long as you can hold your own, nobody’s going to accuse you of being stupid, either.
But let’s see what happens with Surfaces, bathroom tiles and Coke cans, before we consign Microsoft to the dustbin of history. And let’s see what their competitors come up with as well, in the meantime.
Microsoft’s “Software + Services” may not be a big idea for some. “Software + Services + Surfaces + Advertising” is a far more interesting an idea to me.
[YouTube: Jeff Han’s seminal demo at TED, via Chris Lehman.]
I feel this is the way things are panning out. It’s pointing a bit scary / blade-runner / kind of world, where marketeers chase you into every corner. But on the whole, ubiquitous net access is where I’d like to be. But it has to be 2-way. Not just ‘what would you like to buy today’ – but also, ‘here is the latest message from your friend – do you want to respond?’ And if that is on the side of Coke can.. maybe.. just maybe… I might buy into it.
The moment I saw Jeff Han’s TED Talk, I thought, “O.k. – *now* everything is different.”
Real changes will be more like:
Silicon becomes obsolete – organic wireless Internet protocol emerges – computer screens, keyboards, sound systems replaced by organic interface.
Demand for traditional computer techs drops to zero – computing becomes biological function – maintained by medical, biochemical and psychological teams.
No later than 2012.
Microsoft may not always come to the table first, and even when they do come to the table they may not deliver the best 1st generation device.
Over the past 5 years a lot of their focus has been on the XBox brand. They openly admit the original Xbox was as much an experiment as a venture into gaming. They let that run, listened to the punters and bamb, what do we have – Xbo360 + Xbox live (goodnight Sony)
I think their next big space could be on the Zune – again 1st generation device wasn’t first to the table, nor did it even compare to the iPod. And many would argue tht it still does not compare, at least in looks, but many features are coming along which are getting people quite excited. Look out Apple, especially those with an MS operating system, combined with an Xbox (with HD-DVD and video download center (soon to come IPTV)) with the Zune thrown in for good measure = Microsoft control your TV space.
They may not come to the table first, but Microsoft rarely loose !
Nobody has a crystal ball.
But, if Microsoft can throw 5 billion R&D dollars into Vista, why the hell can’t it have Surface on a coke can today??? Apple has managed to squeeze multi-touch into the GUI on a phone. Yet Microsoft with 40 billion dollars in the bank, can only manage a matrix of projectors and mirrors in a coffee table? The only thing missing is the smoke.
As for servers in the office – I think certainly small offices will increasingly become reliant on cloud computing and forget running servers in the office. Today, google does domain hosting for email for free for up to 100 email accounts. You can add calendaring and on-line office productivity apps, all for free. Microsoft …. um, what does Microsoft do in that space today? If they have similar offerings then they should let people know. But would that eat into their office and server cash cow? I think so — so they let google take their customers away instead like the marketing retards they are. As many marketers have pointed out before, it’s better to compete with yourself and keep your customers …. right? Ray Ozzie has a tough job ahead of him else Microsoft will become the next Lotus Notes.
Microsoft needs to jump the curve, not the shark.
I think when sensory input technology for computers matures a little more, the size of some computers will increase. Imagine dancers and martial artists in a room full of intelligent ‘surface’ creating some amazing things. It would be so cool to have computers giving us full fledged workouts instead of RSI.
Note to self: Must start investing in some intelligent ad blocking open source software for my living room.
Makes sense to me . . . with ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous marketing is obviously only going to be a millisecond behind.
You’ve seen these, right?
No reason at all that we can’t have this technology in our living rooms for a couple of hundred dollars within 6 months. But not sure MS have the agility and courage to bring it to us.
BTW : Unrelated question : any thoughts of a Stormhoek / WineM mashup? ( http://todbot.com/blog/2007/01/15/winem-a-thingm-technology-sketch/ )
A friend of mine just got a Palm Centro PDA/phone. It’s like a laptop but it’s a phone. It can do almost anything–it can’t make tea or bake cookies, but I’m sure that’s in the works. As long as people are willing to carry their technology with them and society allows people to access technology no matter where they are, Surface will eventually become ubiquitous, as will the other applications that follow/come with it. No one will be surprised to see it on the Coke can, the ketchup bottle or, eventually, the toilet roll.
It’s not in their DNA to innovate, especially from a content POV. Faster and cheaper may be in their equation, but ‘better’ rarely has, if ever.
My guess is the first prototype will have a huge orange cord attached.
“But give it ten years… we could be surfing the net not just on TV screens, laptops and hand-held devices, but on cocktail tables in bars…”
I wonder how long before the Net starts surfing us — or maybe it is already.
Slightly unrelated, but I don’t think no. 5 should be on your list of how you interact *directly* with technology. It’s the differenct between interacting *with* tech and interacting *through* it.
The first four are your technological choice, and whether you like using the *prodcuts* defines whether you continue to do so for that service. You can change your mp3 player and still get the same end-service (i.e. listenting to music)just in a different way.
The fifth is a different equation though, as it’s tech as a utility. It enables you to do your job, but as a non-techie, I don’t care which type of server my email is running on as long as it’s running, and I can email my buddies, and I doubt you do either.
Surface as far as I can tell, is about trying to emulate what Apple has done in making interacting *with* the technonlogy as much of a pleasurable/fulfilling experience as interacting *through* it.