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The restaurant of the future is living in the past: hands-on with Moneual's Table PC

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On my way to CES, I spent a few hours in JFK Airport, sitting next to a bank of iPads that let you place orders for a nearby cafe. I didn't think too much of it at the time, and in fact I'd almost forgotten completely, until I showed up at the Moneual booth and was introduced to what one passerby non-jokingly referred to as the "restaurant of the future." Moneual's Table PC is a coffee shop-style table with a built-in touchscreen and a reader for both tapped and swiped credit cards; sit down at it and you'll get a selection of four drinks, which you can tap to automatically order and then pick up at the bar. It's sleek, functional, and science fictional... but you could get the same results by strapping an iPad and a Square reader to a desk, and I'm willing to bet that's exactly what most restaurants will do instead.

Like many of the prototypes of CES, the Table PC is a reminder of the convention's omnipresent zeerust, where concepts that once seemed science fictional are standing right in front of you — and then you realize that the real world has already passed them by. The Windows 7 OS that powers the Table PC is only a few years old, and NFC is just getting started, but the whole thing feels like it belongs in a washed-out photograph, a world where single-purpose pieces of industrial technology are developed wholesale instead of being figured out piece by piece as one company builds on another. Moneual, at least, somewhat understands the importance of that last part: if you've got a great credit card table-based idea, it'll eventually be possible to build and run your own app.