Ok people, you can stop sending me emails about Microsoft Surface. I’ve seen it already. And as I mentioned in this interview and this one the experimentation phase of interactive surfaces is over. Everyone knows that Microsoft is the pretty much the last cog in the technology wheel. When they’ve figured it out, well that means that just about everyone else has already figured it out some time ago.
I love that historical timeline on the surface web page. NO REALLY EVERYONE, LOOK, WE THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE THE IPHONE. NO, HEY, WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING? IT’S TRUE! The funny thing about Microsoft is that they are still actually sincere after all these years. They just don’t get the joke. They really do think that they have invented all these technologies, only they just weren’t savvy enough to make people realize it. For example, to them, OS X’s interface is actually a rip-off of ideas they were already working on in Vista and not the other way around. Back in my little bubble world, we digital artists are always suffering from the same illness — it’s in fact our favorite sport (oh, I was doing that years ago) — but it’s even funnier to see one of the richest companies in the world fretting over their public image: gosh, if people only knew!
But kidding aside, this is a really good thing. I said in the above interviews that when Jeff Han’s solution was shown, it was officially over for surface innovation. I called them Hypertables, Hypersurfaces and Object Oriented Objects, MIT people called them Things That Think amongst other terms (and ages before me), and then before all that there was Bill Buxton and Myron Kruger. So none of this is new. But what we needed was a starting block, a sort of ok, fiddling’s over, time to use this stuff. Jeff solved the fundamental visual-gestural language, and all we had to do from there was to start using it.
I also should mention here what got cut out of the Fast Company interview, in response to the question « are hypertables the replacement for the keyboard/mouse combination? » My answer to that was « look at the Wii ». You cannot seperate the iPhone introduction from the introduction of the Wii controller. Both are looking to phsyicalize algorithms, make algorithms maleable physically, and as far as that goes, the field is still wide open. Keyboards and mice are still workable, so they probablly won’t die, no, beacause people will be writing things for a long time to come. Neither the Wii, nor the iPhone, to Surface, will help you write your blog. Maybe your video blog, but not your text blog.
Or maybe a million little things will complement the keyboard and mouse, or maybe just a half-dozen solutions will turn out to be modular enough to solve most of the things we will want to do. Or maybe Cronenberg is right, and it’ll be your body itself. But in my opinion 1) phyiscal objects are good for abstract thinking, and 2) no single object will be fully modular enough for all uses. There will not be one single system, although touch will indeed solve quite a few of the old ones. But whatever the case, the interfacing will require interfacing algorithmically. And when it comes to interacing algorithmically, nothing beats the Rubik’s Cube.
So now are finally seeing real-world hypersurfaces that we can work with. Personally I was expecting Apple to solve the commercialization problem first, and maybe they will. With that $5000+ tag, Surface still feels like vaporware. But I don’t think Microsoft will have any problems shipping at the end of the year as they predict. Trust me, this is very easy technology. For my installation at the Pompidou Center in 2004, for example, I solved my lighting problem with a 5€ bathroom lamp from theBHV down the street. Now, if I can make Hypertables with household appliances, Microsoft can probably commercialize the thing with more professional processes.*
I’m also intrigued that so many people are offering the same solution. That more or less solves the patent problem right there.
Also, Vista is running behind Surface, and while I think Vista is oh-so Mac 10.2 (which is still just a fancy NeXT machine), it’s ultimately great news that there’s a boring old operating system sitting under that coffeetable. Running Processing or Flash or vvvv or whatever on top of it shouldn’t be all that hard.
This is going to sound bad, but personally I’ve got about a five-year start on what works and what doesn’t in these touch-contexts, and plenty of ideas that have just been waiting for the technology to become a reality. But I’m also a little bored with it as well, so we’ll see if I invest a new round in this technology. Our crew has it’s work cut out for it whatever the case: neither Microsoft, nor Apple, nor Perceptive Pixel for that matter, have proposed any tangeable experience with this technology. So far, we’re just talking about « interfaces ». So artists still have a lot to offer in this field.
So thanks Microsoft. I guess I’m trying to say thanks for being so reassuringly tweed coat and making this technology feel like Daddy’s old jalopy…