Computing, once seamlessly synonymous with technological progress, has not grabbed headlines in recent memory. We have not had a 'killer ap' in computing in the last few years. Maybe you can count Wi-fi access to laptops in 2002-03 as the most recent one, but if that is not a sufficiently important innovation, we then have to go all the way back to the graphical World Wide Web browser in 1995. Before that, the killer ap was Microsoft Office for Windows in 1990. Clearly, such shifts appear to occur at intervals of 5-8 years.
I can, without hesitation, nominate surface computing as the next great generational augmentation in the computing experience. This is because surface computing entirely transforms the human-computer interaction in a matter that is more suitable for the human body than the mouse/keyboard model is. In accordance with the Impact of Computing, rapid drops in the costs of both high-definition displays and tactile sensors are set to bring this experience to consumers by the end of this decade.
BusinessWeek has a slideshow featuring several different products for surface computing. Over ten major electronics companies have surface computing products available. The most visible is the Microsoft Surface, which sells for about $10,000, but will probably drop to $3000 or less within 3-4 years, enabling household adoption.
As far as early applications of surface computing, a fertile imagination can yield many prospects. For example, a restaurant table may feature a surface that displays the menu, enabling patrons to order simply by touching the picture of the item they choose. The information is sent to the kitchen, and this saves time and reduces the number of waiters needed by the restaurant (as waiters would only be needed to deliver the completed orders). Applications for classroom and video game settings also readily present themselves.
Watch for demonstrations of various surface computers at your local electronics store, and keep an eye on the price drops. After seeing a demonstration, do share at what pricepoint you might purchase one. The next generation of computing beckons.