Imagine a computer with an advanced, multi-purpose, touch screen that responds to your every touch.  Now rotate the screen onto a horizontal plane and imagine a slew of interactive photos, puzzle pieces, or even paint cans, appearing on the screen so you can tangibly manipulate the objects with virtual freedom.  Such a device would awe and amaze you, wouldn’t it?

Five years ago, a couple Microsoft developers and designers imagined this very concept: a surface computer embedded into end tables or bars that responds to multiple touch inputs and permits hands on manipulation of digital objects on the screen.  A multitude of prototypes were developed and a series of special motion and touch sensing hardware was perfected into what is now known as the Microsoft Milan.  A few days ago, Microsoft demonstrated its latest computer / entertainment device to the public.  After five years of top-secret development, the Milan is Microsoft’s first device in a potentially long line of "surface computers" Microsoft hopes to develop.

The Milan, at its core, is a high-end computer running a compilation of motion sensing and touch sensing software in the Windows Vista environment.  A projector is utilized to format the interactive images onto the screen, which is bordered by various infrared cameras.  The cameras are used pinpoint the location of an interference on the screen (whether this be a stylus or a finger).  The hardware, says Microsoft, is extremely durable and resistant against spills and excessive wear and tear that would come from a device which invites its users to touch it.  The first public demonstration of the Milan showcased various sample applications, including a painting program and a photo manipulation program.

The Milan is currently expected to sell at roughly $10,000; a price tag that’s a little too high for most home technology enthusiasts.  Microsoft does, however, expect to have the Milan (or a Milan-like device) on sale for a much more reasonable price over the course of the next few years.  For the time being, Microsoft plans to work closely with public venues, such as hotel lobbies and casinos, as initial locales to showcase the breathtaking surface computer technology.  The potential of the Milan is essentially limitless.  With various software developers working to create unique applications for the Milan, a few compelling and exciting ideas have already begun development such as programs to build virtual puzzles simply by touching and dragging your finger across the screen.  Microsoft’s Milan is really a step forward in socially oriented computer products.  In addition to their Xbox gaming console, the Milan will attract and cater to a crowd with photo sharing applications and interactive jukebox programs.

What’s really compelling about the Milan is its ability to be fitted into various pieces of furniture and venues.  From coffee tables at Starbucks to local bars and clubs, the Milan could easily function as both an entertainment device and a medium to order drinks and food without having to wait for a waitress or stand in infamously long coffee shop lines.  At product expositions and museums, the Milan can function as a medium to simulate physical contact with objects and their environment.  And in the classroom, the Milan can offer various educational purposes through interactive and always changing flash-card games and dynamic puzzle solving games.  Obviously, the Milan is a versatile device with plenty of potential.

In My Opinion

The real question on my mind is whether or not the Microsoft Milan will be successful.  As far as I can tell, the concept of surface computers has unlimited potential: the Milan is equally capable of functioning well in public casinos as it is in the classroom. The images and articles I have seen on the Milan are truly captivating.  The story of how a few Microsoft employees crafted the ground breaking concept and secretly made it a reality over the course of five years indicates that the Milan is more than just another whimsical touch-screen monitor for fast food joints.  It points toward a successful integration in public venues.  Even the versatility of the Milan suggests that it will intrigue those looking for a stylish means to implement technology into their daily lives in more dynamic and interactive ways.  While the hefty $10,000 price tag is sure to deter some initial sales of the Milan, I can easily see the device becoming a popular entity in trendy bars, casinos, and hotels in the near future.