I got to play with it.
The game itself was pleasant enough. Match album covers to the music that plays by dragging them to your territory. The dragging aspect occasionally engenders some viscous spoons-like play where several people try and grab the proper album from someone who was dragging it to their home area.
This success also exposed a failing of the device. The surface (of the Surface) affords — and the game encourages — pressing; and pressing hard. This action is not recognized by the system though. While Microsoft guidelines push for the creation of “hyper-real” designs, it fails to handle a basic aspect of tangible manipulation. Furthermore, I would have hoped that the touch responsiveness had far less latency. It’s not bad per-say, but for a $15,000 device I, as a consumer, expect magic.
While the table may fail to simulate objects with superior tactile definition, it’s capacities for augmentation are rather interesting. By far my favorite part was the die. Each side of which was marked with a set of dots that the table can recognize. (Btw, Surface uses a camera-vision setup opposed to a capacitive touch screen.) Upon rolling the table does a good job finding and recognizing their faces. In SonicSpree, they’re used for randomly selecting the type of music played in the game. Roll the die and not only does the table show information around them, the game system responds accordingly. This is great. In comparison to virtual die (like those in Surface D&D) the result here is more sophisticated than what could be naturally.
Lastly, one crowing point of the table is its ability to support multi-user screen interaction alongside social interaction. The presenter talked about how the surface enables “true 360° interaction”, and how “people can walk up to it from any side”. While this might be novel for screen media, when it comes to designed interaction this quality has existed in board games since, well, forever. The surface does indeed marry a screen context to a social one, which I think will allow for some rather sophisticated designs given time. Right now, though, I think there’s still plenty of room to expand on these capabilities.