I shot over to an AT&T store in Manhattan this morning to get a multi-finger hands-on with the Microsoft Surface. At CTIA we learned that AT&T would be deploying the Microsoft Surface in a select number of stores for a trial period.
The store I visited had three or four of these tables spread throughout the customer display area, and each one had about eight phones tethered to it. When I walked up to the Microsoft Surface it came up just below my waist; it’s perfect for leaning over to play with, and about a foot and a half taller than a coffee table. The display itself was large and bright and had a textured finish to it. It’s hard to explain. Think somewhere between glass and sandpaper. You can use two fingers—although the screen can detect many objects touching it—to pull and push the map to zoom in and out. If you’ve used an iPhone you’ll be a pro the first time you touch the Surface. We zoomed around the map, which displays the signal coverage in your particular area, and compared two phones. Click through for a hands-on video and more details. The phones have what looks like a small weight attached to them. It’s not a weight, though: It’s what allows each phone to communicate with the Surface. Almost instantaneously after dropping a phone on the Surface, it will detect the phone and display relevant information, such as supported data services and battery life. Lotfi Herzi, a general manager for Microsoft’s enterprise division for Surface, gave me a tour of the table’s features and also informed me that phones will soon have their information built in; so there won’t be a need for the weighted dongle in use now. AT&T put the Surfaces in its stores and trained its employees to use them so that customers will have an easier experience purchasing handsets. I was also told that the Surface will include a shopping-cart feature in the future, so users can quickly drag the accessories they want to the shopping cart to have a representative prepare a real checkout bag for them. It would be super efficient if the Surface could print a receipt of everything I wanted, including the handset, accessories, and the plan, and then I could just walk up to a counter and pay for it. It’s all about the customer’s learning experience in store, because of course, everything like this can already be easily accomplished, saving gas and time, by purchasing a handset online. But I digress.
It’s clear that the Surface serves best, right now, as an entertainment tool to draw customers in. Hopefully it saves time in the future, but for the first few weeks after a Surface is introduced to a new store, it’s hard to believe that it’ll speed up the checkout process. It’s just too fun to use.