Microsoft on Wednesday trumpeted an unorthodox coffee-table computer design that it predicts will become a multibillion dollar portion of the hardware market.
The announcement came as Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was poised to unveil "the first in a new category of surface computing products," the company said, at an industry conference in southern California.
Microsoft Surface machines are built into tabletops and have 30-inch (76-centimeter) screens that can recognize objects placed on them and are controlled by touch instead of keyboard strokes or mouse movements, said the Redmond, Washington state-based company.
Unlike standard touch-screen computers, Microsoft Surface allows more than one person at a time to drag icons or give commands to allow collaborative efforts "just like in the real world," Microsoft said.
"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology," Ballmer said.
"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. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision."
The surface computer is the brainchild of Microsoft’s hardware and research teams.
In a move unusual for Microsoft, which traditionally licenses its technology to partners, the company is contracting to have the computers made.
Microsoft is initially targeting stores, hotels and casinos with the technology. Surface computers will be available in some Las Vegas casinos, Starwood hotels and T Mobile stores by the end of the year, according to Ballmer.