T-Mobile Taps “Surface” to Jazz-Up In-Store Experience

T-Mobile USA, the number three domestic carrier by volume, is looking to up the ante with its in-store experience—inking a deal to install Microsoft’s new coffee table computers, dubbed “Surface.”  With its announcement earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal (read here), T-Mobile joins Starwood Hotels and Harrah’s Entertainment among those slated to be the first retailers to make use of the new touch-screen machines in November.

Microsoft’s Surface Computing technology, a.k.a. PlayTable, features a 30-inch acrylic tabletop PC with a “gestural” touch interface; that is, content moves according to your hand gestures.  (Yes, it’s very Minority Report-esque, which is the de facto comment everybody has to get out of the way). 

See it in action for yourself after the jump…

Hey, thanks for coming along!  Here’s the promised teaser clip.

So as you can see (well, actually you can’t), Surface combines five cameras with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking—which is what allows it to detect objects and movement—and runs on a 1Ghz souped-up version of Windows Vista.  As users move their hands on the table top, the cameras help translate the motions into commands.  For instance, people can select a color by touching a virtual palette, and then “painting” images on the screen with their fingers.

Wireless technology also enables the transfer of stored photos from a digital camera or cellphone placed on the table to the Surface screen.  And from there, a mere wave of the hand can make the images larger or smaller.  In fact, pictures can even be moved to another camera or hard drive by sliding the images across the table—just like you’d pass a picture along in real life.  (Except without the buffalo-wing-grease fingerprints)!

In a recent demonstration, Microsoft executives showed how the object-recognition feature could work for Harrah’s:  By placing a casino loyalty card on the table, for example, a map of Caesar’s Palace might be called up—which you could then tap on to display show times, menus, descriptions of nightclubs, etc.  Not to mention, of course, the potential gambling innovations… 

As far as T-Mobile’s plans for Surface go, they’ve got some interesting ideas:  Customers will be able to compare cellphone models simply by placing them on the screen—triggering pop-up windows that detail the assorted features of the handsets.  And once users have narrowed down their selection, they can then dive deeper to learn about rate plans and the like.  T-Mobile could even offer a version of their T-Zones WAP deck—calling out the different content and entertainment areas—though they haven’t announced any such plans.

Still, cool technology does tend to come with a cool price tag:  Surface prices on the order of $10,000 at full retail.  But for the kind of buzz and cool-factor cache that the tabletops will confer, it may turn out to be the cheapest advertising these companies do all year.  (Especially if Harrah’s can figure out how to deal cards with it…).