Microsoft Surface Studio is the Full-Screen Touch Control Creatives Have Been Waiting For

Microsoft leapfrogs the competition by bringing full-screen touch control to an all-in-one desktop, offering a variety of options for creators to create in a faster, more intuitive way.

"We've done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn't work— touch surfaces don't want to be vertical," said the head of a famous tech company. Of course, that wasn't Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft. It was Steve Jobs, at the time the CEO of its rival, Apple, several years ago, when the Cupertino company started filing patents for touch-screen iMacs.

Microsoft has designed the device to transition from vertical to horizontal as easily as possible.

It turns out that Microsoft got there first. Their foray into touch-screen began with the Surface Book, and as of yesterday, evolved into desktops with the new Surface Studio. To overcome the tendency of touch systems to want to be horizontal, Microsoft has designed the device to transition from vertical to horizontal as easily as possible, to make it simple to switch between a traditional vertical view and then to swing it into a more comfortable working position for touch interaction.

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This device is aimed directly at creative media content producers. It comes in conjunction with a new "creator update" of Windows 10 that includes interesting features, such as the first major update of Windows Paint in years. The new paint app, called Paint 3D, allows for the import, creation, and manipulation of 3D objects directly in paint.

This will not only lead to a new wave of 3D memes (Paint has been a longtime mainstay of image macro creators), but also offers some potentially simpler workflows for filmmakers looking to create 3D models of physical objects and refine them before import into After Effects or other compositors.

Of course, while Microsoft can do a lot with the operating system and apps to take advantage of the new interface, it'll be up to third party software vendors to use the new inputs in ways that are actually useful to the user. 

Surface Studio at work in a studio.Credit: Microsoft

Adobe CC has already been updated with touch and gesture-based control, but other popular tools like Resolve haven't yet; the Microsoft should put pressure on them to do so. While tools like Photoshop and Premiere could easily run on the Surface Pro laptop, more powerful GPU-intensive apps didn't make sense on that platform. 

However, this desktop version should have enough power for higher-end workflows, and we can hope developers of other media apps take the time to experiment with touch. Even in tools like Resolve, where there are numerous other interface systems (full panels, the tangent line, etc.), it could still be great to have the option of a 28" touch screen for drawing complicated tracking shapes, customizing detailed keyframes, and other functions that don't quite fit on a panel.

It is somewhat frustrating that the unit is limited to USB 3 and doesn't support Thunderbolt.

The Surface works with a touch or pen interface. It also has an optional accessory dial that can work on a desktop or on the screen, opening up sensitive touch control of dials, palettes, and timelines. Properly designed interfaces that build on this functionality should make keyframing and other time-based interactions easier and more intuitive.

Surface with Pen and DialCredit: Microsoft

Why does Microsoft want to corner the creative market? After all, while filmmakers, designers, and artists sometimes get a lot of attention, we are hardly a massive share of the market.

If you are spending all day working on a creative project, a large screen with many interface tools and solid processing power will support you best. 

The big reason for all the attention is mobile. As mobile increasingly becomes the dominant area of computing, it's harder and harder to justify the purchase of desktop equipment. However, professional creatives are still big comsumers of bigger hardware. While there are editing apps for the iPad, it's generally a frustrating experience. If you are spending all day working on a creative project, a large screen with many interface tools and solid processing power will support you best.

Finally, many creators work for creative companies that tend to buy hardware on a regular release cycle for both the benefits of a warranty and the speed of the latest and greatest processors. Microsoft has long made a solid business off of catering to the needs of business users. As many of those business users move to tablets—for point of sale, traveling sales teams, and inventory control systems—Microsoft needs some customers to pay for upgraded hardware. The company is clearly hoping creatives will be the answer.

1024 levels of touch sensitivty.Credit: Microsoft

To that end, the powerful NVIDIA graphics support—the first generation is built around the NVIDIA 965M and upgradeable to the 980M—and large hybrid drive is a great feature, though it is somewhat frustrating that the unit is limited to USB 3 and doesn't support Thunderbolt.

The price point will come as a shock to many, with the cheapest version coming in at $2,999. But for comparison's sake, the 27" touch and pen display from Wacom, the Cintiq, runs $2,700 and is just a peripheral that doesn't have its own processor, GPU, or vertical-to-horizontal stand. For what the Surface Studio offers, the price seems fair, and if Microsoft does make inroads into the creative market, the price should come down as manufacturing volume goes up.

The case for creatives to consider a PC just keeps getting stronger and stronger. We continue to see offices with rows of iMacs and sets with folding tables full of MacBook Pros, but this is yet another strong indication that that might be about to change.

The Surface Studio is slated to ship this holiday season.

Tech specs (entry-level model)

  • $2999
  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M with 2GB of VRAM
  • 1TB Hybrid Drive
  • 28" touch screen, 4500 x 3000 PixelSense LCD (192 PPI),
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Adobe sRGB and DCI-P color settings
  • 10-point multitouch
  • Dolby 2.1 Audio
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4 USB 3 ports (one high power), headphone jack, ethernet, mini-displayport
  • Surface Dial $100 extra

Your Comment


I sure hope this lights a fire under Apple's ass.

October 27, 2016 at 9:46AM


Seriously. Especially after Apple's new MacBook Pro announcement today. They're beginning to feel a little boring.

October 27, 2016 at 11:28AM


This sure beats Apple's product announcement.

October 27, 2016 at 11:28AM

Noah Leon
Wedding Cinematographer

What is their plan to accommodate any high speed storage connection? This was glaring to me, a single GbE would have solved it.

October 27, 2016 at 12:42PM


It has a gigabit ethernet port

November 7, 2016 at 5:56PM


I hope this starts to shift the industry to the PC side, rather than the Mac side. You'd be surprised how many looks I get when I say I edit on a PC.

October 27, 2016 at 3:33PM

Jason Penza
Video/TV/Film Editor

it is very difficult to convince people who have a close mentality from that of a sect, of course all Mac users are not like that, but it is true that every time a Mac user sees my computers. they always have these little absurd and awkward questions, as if they knew nothing about computers, and with the arrogance of the ignorant. Certainly click a program or a folder on a Windows PC must be a poorer experience than doing it on a Mac, the difference must be overwhelming, is'nt it ?
Speaking of Microsoft's new computer, I find it very consistent with what is done today in terms of industrial design, performance seem to be sufficient for a graphic designer, but not so good for video use. it is certain that Microsoft will offer new models with newer components that satisfy the most demanding among us

October 28, 2016 at 3:49AM

Domingo Olmo Martin
Author / Director

I want to see how this plays with Adobe CC

October 27, 2016 at 5:44PM

urban revolution
Stories Pictures & Sounds

No thunderbolt is the deal killer for me. Everything else about this is awesome, but I need high-speed external storage. Maybe next version.

October 28, 2016 at 4:11AM


As much as I love the idea of a touchscreen, I won't get one until they figure out how to keep it from showing fingerprints. I hate having to constantly wipe off gunk from my phone screen and don't want a $3,000 machine with prints. I'd much rather have a Wacom and leave the screen for a clear picture.

Also, why is 8GB the default for machines marketed for the creative community? If any of the big brands wanted to corner the market, they should have 16 gigs as the bare minimum.

October 28, 2016 at 11:04PM

Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker

The Surface Studio is most definitely aimed at 2D/3D animators, sculptors, illustrators/concept artists, and graphic designers. It's literally the Microsoft equivalent of a Wacom Cintiq. This will hopefully light a fire under Wacom's ass as they, much like apple, have been resting on their laurels. However Wacom did just release a new cintiq mobile studio pro and not it's not nearly as underwhelming as the new mac book.

I would never use a Wacom Cintiq or a Surface Studio to solely as an editing machine. I feel the NLE workflow lends itself better to keyboard and mouse as opposed to touch/pen. Maybe color correction/grading?

October 31, 2016 at 7:17PM, Edited October 31, 7:21PM

Motion Designer

I watched Apple's MacBook event with a sort of stupid optimism. But after seeing what they unveiled, it's safe to say that Apple has left the creators behind. Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.

In an ideal world, Apple should release a special version of MacOS just for creative professionals. And it should just be an OS that works on any system. I know, I know. A man can dream, can't I

October 30, 2016 at 12:41AM

Sahit Anand
Director and Co-Founder of DO. Creative Labs

IS this the beginning of the End for Apple? USB 3 is fast enough for various peripheral connections. i Don't see a major problem.... Talking from my experience with both USB 3.0 and Thuderbolt here.

November 2, 2016 at 12:29PM, Edited November 2, 12:29PM

Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op

I for one would love to be using one of these. Definitely will be on my "look at" list for my next system. I've been running custom Windows PCs for years in my studio and both in terms of dollars spent and performance, the Apple systems just don't have "it" anymore. They have turned into a company that makes status objects; creatives were forgotten about around 10 years ago.

November 3, 2016 at 2:59PM, Edited November 3, 2:59PM

Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics