SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile , Research) will unveil a coffee-table-shaped "surface computer" on Wednesday in a major step towards co-founder Bill Gates's view of a future where the mouse and keyboard are replaced by more natural interaction using voice, pen and touch.
Microsoft Surface, which has a 30-inch display under a hard-plastic tabletop, allows people to touch and move objects on screen for everything from digital finger painting and jigsaw puzzles to ordering off a virtual menu in a restaurant.
It also recognizes and interacts with devices placed on its surface, so cell phone users can easily buy ringtones or change payment plans by placing their handsets on in-store displays, or a group of people gathered round the table can check out the photos on a digital camera placed on top.
The world's largest software maker said it will manufacture the machine itself and sell it initially to corporate customers, deploying the first units in November in Sheraton hotels, Harrah's casinos, T-Mobile stores, and restaurants.
The company is selling the Surface for between $5,000 and $10,000 each, but aims to bring prices down to consumer levels in three to five years and introduce various shapes and forms.
"We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror," Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in a statement.