Microsoft Working On Mobile Version Of Surface

But Microsoft Research is working on a similar technology that uses a mobile device and a camera-projector system to beam a touch-enabled interface onto any flat surface. Called Mobile Surface, the technology also includes 3D technology that lets users interact with the interface using various gestures.

"Our goal is to bring Microsoft Surface experience to mobile scenarios, and more importantly, to enable 3D interaction with mobile devices," according to a description of the project on the Microsoft Research Web site.

According to Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley, Mobile Surface may be related to another Microsoft Research project from 2007 called "PlayAnywhere" which uses lasers and a projector to emulate the Surface experience at a fraction of the cost.

Microsoft has sunk a great deal of R&D into natural user interfaces (NUI), and in May 2008 Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off a technology called TouchWall, the demo of which employed a combination of hardware and software to project an easy-to-use touch interface onto a whiteboard-like screen.

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During that demo, Gates said surface computing would eventually become so pervasive that it wouldn't be limited to tabletops and walls. "Our view is that all surfaces -- horizontal, vertical -- will eventually have an inexpensive screen display capability, and software that sees what you're doing there, so it's completely interactive," Gates reportedly said at the time.

With Project Natal slated for launch in time for the holiday season, Microsoft's progress in NUI is poised to gain unprecedented attention. In Project Natal, the body itself is the controlling device, and the technology evaluates trillions of body configurations and movements every second and uses 3D cameras to faithfully reproduce human movements on-screen.

Although Surface is interesting, and has attracted throngs of curious onlookers at Microsoft conferences in recent years, its price tag -- in the $10,000 neighborhood -- has kept it out of reach of pretty much everyone outside of large corporations. But as cheaper versions of NUI technology trickle out of Microsoft Research, the cost bar will no longer be an issue, and Microsoft can start to shut up the critics who claim it doesn't innovate.