It was an interesting move for Microsoft, traditionally a company that focuses on corporate users, not the creative class. That is typically more of an Apple thing.
Following the big talk this morning, I got some hands-on time with the Surface Studio, and everything that goes along with it, and these are a few of the impressions I came away with.
Microsoft calls it the Studio because they say it has the ability to turn any surface (see what I did there?) into a studio. It is both a high-powered touchscreen computer and super-charged canvas. It features a 28-inch PixelSense display, part of the “thinnest desktop monitor ever created,” in the words of Panos Panay, the company’s devices chief.
Up close, one thing that stands out is the simplicity of some of its more unique features. Transitioning the PC from a stand-up desktop to a flat pad requires very little effort, just a little push or pull. That’s because of a series of linkages in the arms that connect the monitor and base. They are designed to create a smooth transition between the Studio’s upright and flat positions.
The Studio was one of the headliners of Wednesday’s event, but the biggest surprise of the day was the puck-like object known as Surface Dial. The radial input device features haptic feedback, retails for $99.99 and is compatible with the Surface Studio and other Surface products. It’s not normally included with the $2,999 Surface Studio, but Microsoft says those who pre-order the Surface Studio before Dec. 1 will also get a Surface Dial for delivery in 2017.
We got to see demos on a variety of sketch pad applications, as well as how the Dial integrates with Windows Maps.
The Dial let me see maps from a variety of angles through tilting, zooming and flipping the screen. The Surface Pen let me draw a line from place to place, telling me the distance between them. So apparently, if I want to run from my hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge, across and back, it would be about 5 miles. (I think I’ll just grab another bagel instead.)
A non-visual type like me can’t do the Dial full justice, but watching other people use the puck-like device, it was easy to see the value. It is simple to operate. There are only a couple of actions — press and rotate — so it’s not hard to do perform them with either hand.
Most creative folks tend to draw with one hand while using the other in a complementary fashion. When artists are in a groove, they don’t want to stop what they are doing to change colors or the thickness of their stroke. The Dial has functions to change those, allowing sketching to continue. Doing that does require a pretty high level of skill and concentration, however, with both hands acting independently. Whenever I wanted to change something using the Dial, I stopped drawing with the Pen because my brain just doesn’t work that way.
Once they’ve finished their works of art, people can use the Dial to “replay” the scrawling of ink on the screen to show how it was drawn.
At the outset, the Dial wasn’t very intuitive for me. I struggled to pick up the commands right away, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. After checking out a couple of programs that use the Dial, I started to get the hang of it. I even made a (poor) attempt to draw the GeekWire logo.
The Studio’s screen is gorgeous, and would definitely make for some fun gaming. A demo of Halo Wars 2 proved that I have no idea how to take and hold checkpoints, but man are those Warthogs pretty when they’re shooting up all my fighters. The only problem is I don’t want to sully such a beautiful screen with my grubby hands. Perhaps in an update, Microsoft can release some Surface gloves that would keep people from smudging their screens.
When discussing the Surface Pen at this morning’s reveal, Microsoft executives said it was smooth and easy to write with. My experience backed that up. Drawing on photos and virtual canvasses using the Pen was simple, and for the most part it did exactly what I wanted. That level of precision will be key if Microsoft wants to make the Studio the preferred device for the creative class.
At this point, it’s a little too early to fully understand what kind role of Dial and Pen might play in the success of Surface Studio and other new Microsoft devices. It will all depend on how excited the company and its partners are about it, and how users want to use it. Today was just a preview, but there were already some pretty interesting features on display. For example, one drawing demo included some unique tools, such as a ruler and a much more intricate color wheel on the Dial for more in-depth drawing capabilities.
In general, the Surface Studio, the Dial and Pen seem like they could be a game changer for creative types. That fits with the overall theme of the day. Given that focus, as well as the big price tag for the Surface Studio, it remains to be seen how much mass appeal these new products will have.
Microsoft, at least, should get a good answer to that question pretty soon as Surface Studio is available for pre-order, starting today, shipping in limited quantities for the holidays.