Friday, August 15, 2008

Sharaton Hotels to Get Microsoft Surfaces

BURLINGAME, Calif.--In Vegas, club goers are flirting with each other across it. Here at a San Francisco Bay Area hotel, pre-teens are playing it like a jukebox.

It's Microsoft's Surface, a sit-down, touch-screen computer that's making a wider public debut across the country. While Apple has popularized mobile touch-screen computers, Microsoft is trying to make them fixtures of bars and hotels.

On Wednesday, five Sheraton hotels, including locations here and in New York, Boston, and Seattle, started testing the interactive table with their hotel guests. The machines let people use two fingers instead of a mouse to virtually research restaurants, play music, or plot a walking tour.

While there is somewhat of a learning curve with the machines--it's not immediately clear where or how to "click" the table--Craig Parker, Sheraton Gateway Hotel's general manager, said that the new Surface computers modernize the hotel. "It has potential to be our virtual concierge," he said.

Earlier this year, Harrah's Rio hotel in Las Vegas brought in six Surface machines to its club, iBar. Those computers enable people to send flirty messages between tables or concoct their own drinks before ordering at the bar.

Comparatively, the Sheraton Surfaces have fairly tame applications--but this is one of Microsoft's larger roll-outs of the estimated $10,000 machines. People can hunt for photos and videos of Sheraton hotels around the country, look up local businesses on a map, or play music. (AT&T stores also have Surface machines that let people research phones.)

Originally code-named Milan, the Surface computer looks like a 1980s sit-down arcade machine. The table includes a 30-inch display that uses infrared cameras and a projector to create a 360-degree touch-screen that can respond to multiple users' hand gestures, as well as interact with other objects.

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