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The ultimate coffee table book is itself a coffee table. Have you ever wondered why coffee table books exist? It's a pretty strange literary genre, if you think about it. It's the only category of printed content that's expressly designed to sit on a specific piece of furniture.
Wikipedia has a nice entry on the coffee table: "A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for portability."
In the relentless drive to turn physical things into virtual ones, the purpose served by the coffee table book will soon be served by the coffee table itself, and for the same reasons. The coffee table as a computer will help you entertain guests and stimulate conversation. It will also control other smart appliances in the house, such as the TV.
The best example of this technology is a product from Samsung called the SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense. Here's a nice video that shows off some of the amazing capabilities of PixelSense. Currently, the SUR40 isn’t sold to consumers; it's sold mostly to bars, casinos and retail stores.
Microsoft has made no secret of its intention to make PixelSense tables available for consumers. It's probably just waiting for the prices of electronic components to come down far enough so the tables can sell for less than $3,000 or so.
The coffee table as PC. A company called Mozayo sells a coffee table called the M42-Pro. It’s basically a high-end Microsoft Windows PC with a 42-inch high-definition display as the table surface. It also has a touch interface layer, which enables you to use it without a keyboard or mouse.
The Mozayo sits in a wood-grain, dark-stained coffee table. In addition to the touch interface, it comes with a few custom applications. Beyond those customizations, however, it operates very much like today’s PCs, with menus, desktop applications, icons and all the rest.
The smart coffee table of the future will be central. The Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense does many of the things that tomorrow’s interactive coffee tables will do, but it’s not ready for the consumer market. The Mozayo M42-Pro is ready for the consumer market, but it can’t really do the things that will make future interactive coffee tables compelling.
The next generation of smart coffee tables will look like a combination of the two. (This photo shows one custom variation of the Samsung SUR40, illustrating how people will be drawn to smart coffee tables as a central sources of entertainment and information.)
Imagine a coffee table with a smooth, all-glass surface. When you touch it with your hand, it will come alive. Gestures such as swiping up will bring up various options. While the surface of the table is lit, various objects, such as phones, will be recognized by the table, enabling neat tricks. For example, by placing a smart phone on the table, it not only will know who you are but will enable you to selectively spill out digital pictures and videos onto the table.
Board games will be replaced by smart board pieces. Presenting future Monopoly items (the little dog, the top hat etc.), the table will turn into an interactive Monopoly board. All the Community Chest cards, money and the rest will be served up on the surface of the coffee table.
Draw the letter "K" (for “keyboard”) with your finger, and a keyboard with document will appear on the screen. After writing something, you'll be able to send it via email, post it on Facebook or do any number of other things with it. Another gesture will bring up a TV remote control function or controls for various lights and other items in the house.
In short, the interactive coffee table of the future will do just about anything you want it to. And it will cost a lot less than today’s $10,000-plus tables.
Ultimately, the reason coffee tables will reign supreme is that you’re going to have a large, flat surface in the middle of your living room surrounded by chairs where people will spend a lot of time anyway. It’s the ideal scenario for a massively powerful computer with a big, beautiful touch screen that can conjure up anything you and your family desire.
Ubiquitous computing is coming. You'll have little computers in many of your appliances and furniture pieces, and a big computer with a big screen right there in your living room. Tomorrow's smart coffee table will do absolutely anything. You'll even be able to set your coffee cup on it. (Please use a coaster!)
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