We had quite the debate about this over lunch today and didn’t come to any definitive conclusion; however, there were a few things that bounced back and forth.

For starters, David Pogue, tech columnist for the NY Times had this article today Much ado about Microsoft’s Surface Computer and I think he nailed it fairly on the head.

So often in my work I see what’s called “technology solutions in search of a problem” and that’s what this thing is. It’s cool, but does cool translate into useful?

For example, here’s the kind of things that to me say that the demo was more about “wow” than it was about practical uses.

The photo table. I can’t really see someone doing this at home, but, I could see it at the photo counter at Costco for preparing prints from digital cameras. But, this would be the people who bring a single memory card in as they fill them up with 40 photos – not as useful for someone who’s got 400 photos in one batch. It’s not a great organizational metaphor.

Why not at home? Because it looks cool, but it doesn’t mimic the way people work photos. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I have a stack of photos in my hand and I’m at a table and I want to share them with others at the table, the one thing I DO NOT do it toss them in an random heap across the table, so we can slide them all around the table. The visual metaphor immediately conjures a recognizable occurrence, but not a desirable occurrence. It doesn’t actually do what we’d want to do with the pictures.

Of course, that’s “the software” not the table, and this whole thing lives and dies on someone writing compelling software. Nothing shown here was compelling and nothing described in Pogue’s article is, either.

The idea of ordering food and using stuff at your table is cool. So is the notion of having games to play at the bar, but… after the food has arrived, do you really want people waving their hands all over the table surface? Or drunks at a bar, elbow to elbow?

Tables will have to be bigger, bar stools farther apart. That wastes space that could be generating income. Would they really save $10,000 per table by enabling the tables in this way?

Maybe at a Starbucks… I could see this at a coffee shop, where half the people are sitting at laptops anyway.

What about that cool interface between the concept phone and camera and the smart table? Wirelessly linking the two together. Cool, but, again, what’s the advantage? If it is wireless, it doesn’t need to sit on the table and, as one commentator on the NY times put it, “Forget Surface computers €” how about phones, cameras and music players which work wirelessly with my desktop.”

Yes, it’s a cool idea that’s been around for years and years… but I don’t think it’s the next big thing.