Microsoft's Surface

Unlike tiny sensors and foldable devices, this form factor focuses on the very big picture: interactive surfaces.

Microsoft is one of the biggest proponents. Its Surface product, which came out in 2007, lets users interact with both digital items and physical objects. Popular Mechanics called it "a coffee table that will change the world." Today, Surface tabletops appear in some Sheraton hotel bars.

One surface catching on in the mainstream is the interactive whiteboards that are now ubiquitous in schools.

Some current experiments sound straight from science fiction. In a test project, grocery store Tesco Homeplus built a virtual mall in a South Korean subway station. Customers simply scanned a QR code under the groceries they wanted and had the items automatically delivered to their homes.

Here in the U.S., Forrester expects retailers and marketers will start using more surface displays this year. Big-name retailers including Macy's and Diesel have already used interactive setups to draw customers into stores.

By Julianne Pepitone @CNNMoneyTech - Last updated March 29 2012: 9:37 AM ET
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