It may be an old-fashioned concept turned new, but Sheraton Hotels & Resorts wants to market its lobbies as a social networking hub for guests. To that end, the company has installed in five hotel lobbies technology from Microsoft that lets guests listen to music or get information on local retail stores and events. Down the road, the tables could spit out coupons for discounts and freebies. Last week, Sheraton unveiled Microsoft Surface, a 30-inch computer table-like display, in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The intuitive user interface works without a mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content by using their hands. CityTips, Sounds of Sheraton and Sheraton Snapshots are three highlighted applications. Sheraton plans to advertise Microsoft Surface with signage, primarily in elevators and lobbies. For the next few months, room keycards will also promote the new gadget, along with confirmation booking emails and Web sites. Brian Povinelli, vice president of marketing for Sheraton, says the hotel chain hopes to differentiate the brand through Microsoft Surface. Advertising has not been built into the technology; Sheraton wants to determine which applications its guests use most. "It's built to allow a brand like Sheraton to feature local attractions or deliver coupons," says Povinelli. "We're exploring ordering food and beverages from the table, and that would give us a chance to bring in brands like Pepsi that could advertise their products." Microsoft Surface comes off the shelf with core applications, but Sheraton customized them with an eye toward the day its guests will be able to download information from area retailers onto their phones or PDAs. Within the next year, as Bluetooth and infrared become more pervasive in cameras and cell phones, Sheraton says it will likely allow guests to download information from the City Tips program. That information could contain directions as well as coupons for free stuff and discounts. It's not clear whether Microsoft Surface will bring Sheraton incremental revenue from advertising and marketing services, but Povinelli says it "may become a secondary fringe benefit, rather than a primary driver." AT&T installed a handful of Microsoft Surface tables at Mobility stores earlier this year. No word as to whether the technology has enhanced the consumer experience. Avenue A|Razorfish, a Microsoft subsidiary, worked with AT&T to develop an application that placed kiosks with screens and Microsoft Surface in 12 stores across the U.S. There, the technology uses object recognition to let customers compare the features of two models by putting the phones on the kiosk's surface.