Jun 23, 2021 - Technology

Tabletop computing gets a second chance

Ina Fried
Microsoft shows off its Surface tabletop computer in May 2007.

Microsoft shows off its Surface tabletop computer in May 2007. Photo: Kevin P. Casey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Microsoft debuted its giant Surface tabletop computer back in 2007, executives predicted it might only take three to five years for a version to make its way to consumers. That never happened, but 15 years later, tabletop computing is back — this time in a new, game-focused vision from another company.

Why it matters: Long ago both Bill Gates and "Minority Report" promised a future in which every wall and surface becomes a digital screen where information can be displayed and manipulated by touch. That future is finally beginning to materialize.

Driving the news: Tastemakers — best known for Arcade 1Up, its line of slimmed down versions of '80s arcade games — is launching retail sales of the Infinity Game Table next month, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

  • Starting at around $600, the coffee-table size device includes a bunch of classic Hasbro games along with digital card games, jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.
  • Games can be played by multiple people in one place, or with other table owners over the internet.
A family plays Connect 4 on the Infinity Game Table.
A family plays Connect 4 on the Infinity Game Table. Photo; Tastemakers

Flashback: The original Surface may be a distant memory now, but it was a groundbreaking computer for its time, with demos that wowed.

  • Debuting around the same time as the iPhone, it was one of the first commercial products to offer a multitouch interface.
  • Microsoft targeted sales of the first Surface at the hotel and retail markets. However, those who got a chance to experience it were inevitably captivated by its potential consumer uses.

Yes, but: Priced at a prohibitive $10,000 and extremely bulky, the device never got a chance to move beyond niche business markets. Microsoft eventually licensed the technology to Samsung, and later reused the Surface name for its own consumer tablets.

Between the lines: The iPhone made touch screens a part of our lives while the Surface vanished.

  • In the intervening years, however, the visions have grown closer: Apple introduced the iPad, touch came to Windows computers and tablets, and touch screens are everywhere now from cars to elevators to vending machines.

What's next: A lot of surface areas have yet to be digitized. Despite Gates' promise, most walls still only smudge when we touch them.

  • But the Infinity Game Table, like Surface before it, shows how just offering a touch screen in a different shape or size creates new opportunities. I suspect Gates is right on the outcome, if not on the timing.

Go deeper: Game Table review

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