For a layman, touchscreen technology is that elusive futuristic dream of being able to interact directly with digital data. For tech giants touchscreen seems to be the new weapon of choice in the ever-intensifying war with the software giant Microsoft now unveiling the swanky new Surface 2.0 at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Microsoft's Chief Executive, Steven A. Ballmer proudly showed off the new version of surface during the keynote address at CES on Wednesday night. The Surface is no longer a big box with cameras inside. Instead, it has evolved into this thin mountable tabletop touch computer.

Powered by CPU and GPU by AMD, Surface 2.0 does not have to bear cameras inside a huge cube-shaped box. All those cameras mounted underneath the glass surface of the table in the previous version are all gone. The whole thing is just four inches thick and Microsoft is using what it calls Pixel Sense technology to cause each pixel act as a camera. This means higher precision. Not only is the Surface 2.0 better at sensing fingers touching it, but it can also read documents placed on its tabletop. This impressive new capability was also demoed at the CES.

Besides this, the Surface has the biggest piece of Gorilla Glass ever produced. Gorilla Glass is the same glass that's on the front and back of the Apple Inc.'s iPhone 4.

As per reports, Royal Bank of Canada will be the early adopter of the new Surface, which is to be manufactured by Samsung.

What is Surface?

For those who have no idea about the Microsoft Surface, here is how it all began. Microsoft announced Suface in May 2007 at the D5 conference. The product is a combination of software and hardware that enables a user, or users, to manipulate digital content by the use of gesture recognition.

Microsoft Surface is a revolutionary multi-touch computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in a simple and intuitive way. With a large, horizontal user interface, Surface offers a unique gathering place where multiple users can collaboratively and simultaneously interact with data and each other, explains

Besides vowing end-users with the technology that lets you grab digital content with your hands and move information with simple gestures and touches, the company targeted businesses as well.

Microsoft Surface provides tremendous potential for businesses to improve communication, and be more efficient in how they deliver information and services to their customers, the company said.

Surface cameras recognize different types of objects such as fingers to get the input, which is then processed by the computer and the resulting interaction is displayed using rear projection.

As is the case with all touchscreen technologies, the user can enjoy a direct interaction with the computer using natural touch and hand gestures, doing away with mediatory controls of mouse or keyboard.

Touchscreen wars: Will Apple retaliate?

The idea of interacting physically with digital data has always fascinated the layman. Several movies and books cashed in on this fascination. A popular example being that of the 2002 film Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise's character uses special gloves that allow him to manipulate images across a screen with his finger tips.

The technology, which took birth in 1971 as 'Touch Sensor' developed by Doctor Sam Hurst, founder of Elographics, at the University of Kentucky, is rapidly becoming available through various gadgets, such as touchscreen phones and tablets.

With the much-hyped and much-awaited launch of the iPad in April 2010, Apple stole the show by combining tablet and touchscreen technologies. Interesting, even at the January 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ballmer had showed off Microsoft's slate PC during his keynote speech. But it was never launched. Ahead of the 2010 CES, there was wide-spread speculation that Microsoft will have big announcements at the industry show.

However, with the launch of the Surface V2, Microsoft has taken the limelight away from the media's continual praise of Apple iPhone's revolutionary touchscreen interface. Although Microsoft eyes large-screen tables rather than smartphones with the new Surface, it nevertheless has captured the interest of the world.

Now, the observers closely await Apple's response. Some speculations suggest that Apple may look closely into the legal route specially after Steve Jobs' declaration that the iPhone is protected by over 200 patents. Surface microsite, however, claims that Microsoft has been developing Surface since the Virtual Game Table designs in 2001.

Analysts also predicted that Apple's devices will be countered by the price factor. Not only are several competitors in the tablet market seeking to launch cheaper products, with the technology getting cheaper Microsoft can actually hope that Surface will be increasing adopted by bars, shops, hotels, kiosks and other businesses.

One aspect that may hamper Microsoft Surface's apparent success in comparison with other touchscreen devices is the fact that the tabletop PC is not meant of living rooms, at least as of now. Nevertheless, the software major, which managed to get its gaming console Xbox take the center stage in many living rooms, could continue to develop the Surface further to penetrate into households.