At ITEXPO in Los Angeles last year XD Huang wowed the audience with a video of future touch-screen technologies which integrate the real and virtual worlds. It was quite amazing and I will never forget it. I just can't wait to get these technologies in my current computing experience. Here is more detail - in this video Shahram Izadi explains the future of touch computing called SecondLight from Microsoft's perspective.
Video courtesy of MIT Technology Review
What is really interesting is the new user interface Microsoft is developing taking advanatge of ThinSight -- a new LCD display which relies on the reflectivity of human skin and other objects to create interactions between the real and virtual worlds. In addition, objects can be flicked using surface physics. Similar to the iPhone when you push something, it continues to move based on the momentum you created when you originally flicked the object. But where the iPhone allows this functionality primarily for basic scrolling, Microsoft's surface physics allows you to rotate objects and fill boxes with documents and/or photos. It is like a next gen iPhone interface which leads me to believe Steve Jobs and company are furiously working to stay ahead of Microsoft in this regard.
For now this is a research project but we can expect Microsoft to feel extreme pressure to get these technologies in the real world. After all, Google is coming at them and so is Apple. In the case of Google the company has shown their approach to computing is to do as much of the computing in the cloud as possible and subsequently the desktop OS can become much simpler.
In contrast, the next-gen touchscreen technology Microsoft is developing is extremely resource-intensive and at this moment cannot be duplicated in the cloud, meaning more expensive computers need to be purchased to run it and if successful, this interface could put the Google Chrome OS away before it has a chance. Either that or Google could be involved in a quagmire of having to compete with an ever-more complex GUI to stand toe-to-toe with Microsoft and Apple. It is unclear if Google is prepared for this potential shift in graphically sophisticated, resource intensive computing.
Another possibility is that the Google approach will appeal to some and the complex UI approach will appeal to others. This is what happened with Gmail.
I should remind my readers that Microsoft for all its money, research and focus group activity is not able to make user interfaces that can even come close to Apple in terms of usability and likability. So while the technology in this video is really cool, it could be an Apple device which brings it to the mass market.
For the sake of customers and healthy competition let's hope Microsoft gets this one right.