Over at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley reports on the imminent unveiling of Microsoft’s own multi-touch technology — code-named ‘PlayTable’ — which could prove to be the company’s answer to the iPhone. Also known as the Milan Project, the technology is designed to “allow users to navigate and manipulate data inside a browser or application using gestures”, says Foley. “Think pinches, pushes, waves, etc”. Even more intriguing is that the announcement could come as early as tomorrow, when Bill Gates is set to take the stage with his old rival, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, at the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference.
Foley notes that the project has been developed by Microsoft’s Mobile and Entertainment Division (MED), which is the same business unit responsible for the Xbox, Zune and Windows Mobile devices.
It’s easy to see how Microsoft might incorporate the Milan multi-touch capability into Zunes or Windows Mobile phones. In fact, one source told me that Microsoft has been pitching Milan to various wireless carriers, with the hopes that they will support a Milan-enabled Windows-Mobile phone in the not-too-distant future.
Of course Microsoft doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to marketing consumer electronics — XBox being the exception — and Foley says that the company sees additional markets for ‘PlayTable’.
Multi-touch/gesture-recognition technology also would be a natural fit in medical (think of several doctors collaborating over a shared medical file); architectural (shared schematics), educational, hospitality and lots of other applications, Microsoft is hoping.
Whether Gates tries to get one up on Apple at tomorrow’s event (where Jobs will undoubtedly show off the iPhone), what is clear is that Apple isn’t the only company that’s been working on bringing a gesture-based user interface to market. At this point it’s also worth noting that when Jobs announced the iPhone he boasted that Apple had over two hundred patents relating to the device.