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.
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.
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.
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)
- 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