The Surface Studio Is Microsoft's Tipping Point

This morning, Microsoft introduced the world to something it has been working on for a long time. It started with the original Surface -- now called the PixelSense -- back in 2008. Then the original Surface tablet. Then the Surface Book. Now, the Surface Studio. This, the most mature and refined (and expensive) Microsoft device that you've ever been able to buy, is the tipping point. In a year, Microsoft will be the creative darling that Apple was five years ago.

When I toured Microsoft's Surface skunkworks earlier this year, our group was told in no uncertain terms not to take photos in one particular room. A big, hangar-esque fast-prototyping space hadn't been sanitised for curious shutter-happy journalists to walk through it, and engineers and plant operators were hard at work in front of massive, truck-sized CNC mills and waterjet machines, quietly humming away building something new. Something bigger. It wasn't obvious at the time but it is now.

With the debut of the Surface Studio, Microsoft has the tablet, laptop and desktop PC market sewn up for people that need a little bit more than tapping away at a keyboard and clicking away with a mouse. All three of its beautifully designed and creatively presented devices support touch input, through finger or hand or Surface Pen. It has the explicit and implicit support of creative companies like Adobe and Autodesk, whose programs (apps, I guess we should call them these days) have lived in a Windows environment for decades now.

Just consider the Surface Dial, though, as evidence of what Microsoft is doing now. It's providing first-party tools built with Windows 10 in mind for creatives to interact with their PCs in a different way. It's like the Apple Pencil on crack; a context-sensitive, touch-and-swivel driven gadget that anyone that works in any kind of creative field can almost certainly think of an application for. Microsoft is for creative wonks now.

Video editor? Scrub straight through a timeline. Sound recordist? Adjust your equalisers. Graphic artist? Alter the colour, stiffness, thickness of the pen or pencil you're working with. That's something that you'd need a third-party gadget for any other platform. Sure, they already exist, but the important thing is that Microsoft wants to own every single step of the process from PC hardware to input peripheral to operating system to software for creatives. Even bloody MS Paint is getting the makeover of a century to be more useful.

I take a reasonable number of photos, inside and outside the office, for work and for pleasure. My creative outlet -- outside of writing -- is photography. I can see myself using the Surface Studio and Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom to post-process high-res photos so naturally. With the Surface Dial I can adjust exposure and contrast and saturation and pull highlights and push shadows and change the size of brushes. With the Surface Pen I can quickly mask areas and spot heal blemishes and remove dust from frames. All of this on the Surface Studio's hugely adjustable, tiltable display that moves between a screen to view and a drafting table to draw on.

That tiltable display is the Surface Studio in a nutshell. It's a device, just like the Surface Pro's kickstand and the Surface Book's detachable, flippable display, that wants you to do weird shit that you wouldn't normally do on a desktop PC. That's what Microsoft is betting big on, and I'm of the opinion that it's going to pay off big time in the next year.

You want to see what kind of stuff Microsoft's PC development partners will be doing in a year or a couple of years from now? Look at the Surface Studio. We saw exactly that happen with the Surface Pro. The Surface Book too, to an extent. Microsoft has leapfrogged its largest competitors in innovation; it's expensive, sure, and won't sell in massive volumes, but the Surface Studio does the most yet to establish Microsoft as the PC builder to watch -- whether you're a creator or you just enjoy consuming the things that others create.

It doesn't have phones, but that's another story. Right now, I'm not convinced that Microsoft needs them.

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Comments

    As I said elsewhere, this is something HP tried in 2013 and no-one seemed to buy into it. I thought the Envy 23 was a brilliant idea and they did it really well at a reasonable price, yet it was quietly discontinued after only 18 months or so, in favour of something much more ordinary and far less useful. If Microsoft can make this thing popular, maybe HP will revisit?

      HP Envy 23 is/was a low resolution, low power commodity machine. Surface Studio appears to be going for a very specific market - professional creative workstations.

        HP also did the Z1 Workstation in the same form factor and that thing had real grunt. I just couldn't find a photo of it.

          Doesnt matter how much grunt it has if the screen is shit. I could load up a rig with an 8 core i7 and a GTX Titan XP but it would be rendered useless with a CRT.

            Are you nuts? CRTs still look way better than flatscreens. They are much more adjustable, too. In any event, we were talking about a PC from 2013, not 1993.

              My 1080p Asus Gaming Monitoir > All CRT's

              You are both blind and ignorant if you think CRT's look better than modern day high end gaming monitors.

              Last edited 29/10/16 12:50 am

                I dunno man, there are distinct advantages with CRT like the input latency (or lack there of), and the colours are generally better than most of today's LCD monitors. Similar to the fact that good plasma TVs are only now starting to be beaten on quality by quantum dot panels.

                  The weight and size of CRT's render those slight benefits useless though.

                I'm not talking about your grandma's old TV, I am talking about serious, high-end workstation monitors. The Sony CRTs we used to ship with Flame and Smoke were so sensitive, each one that shipped here had to be recalibrated for the difference in the Earth's magnetic field in the Southern Hemisphere. I have never in my life seen a more breathtaking picture.

                  Well thats a high end device, Of course it will look better. But people cannot afford that nor do theyown them. Im talking about your average consumer where Modern Screens > CRT

                  Colours generally worse in a CRT the gun had trouble hitting the same phosphors with multiple beams. Which leads to colours running into the next pixel. Known as dynamic convergence.
                  Plus yeah weight.
                  Inefficiency.
                  Lead.
                  Shadow masking.
                  Burn in.
                  Effected by weak magnetic fields.
                  Size.
                  Ionizing radiation.
                  Screen flickering and noise on lower refresh rates.

              I'm glad someone remembers that! I'm not sure I've seen anything with the colour depth of CRT although it's certainly got to be close now, but of course the resolution issue is the problem. That's not why the technology was dumped of course, it was all down the the consumer desire for a thin, light form factor. I wonder where CRT technology could be now if it had continued to be seriously developed? Super-thin tubes with clever mirrors redirecting the beams from below? surely ways could have been found to reduce size and increase resolution.

          Reading this on my work pc, which is a Z1, in fact my entire web team are on Z1's.

          They're not terrible machines but seemingly nowhere in the same league as the MS offering but they do the job - probably a bit too grunty for a lot of the work some staff do here to be honest.

          The monitor stand on the Z1's is annoying as hell though. The monitor/pc is slung over the front of the base, which means one cannot push the pc back far enough on the desk so it's way too close to your face. Really annoying ergonomics. The base is large and chunky to offset the weight of the pc being part of the monitor too.

          All in all the design of the Studio looks to be far better but ultimately more limiting in what they can cram into the base.

          Bit disappointed at the video card but for what we do in our day to day jobs, the Studio would be fantastic, if completely overkill.

        Except that in a "professional creative workstation" for video/film you need thunderbolt, which it doesn't have, and it has a hybrid, not SSD drive. It also has woefully outdated graphics hardware with the 980M.
        It 'looks' like a creative machine, but doesn't quite have the chops when it comes to the practice. To me it is a missed opportunity, it could have been an astounding piece of gear, it looks so sexy when you first see it, but then later, you realise it is just a medium powered touch screen PC, that tilts.

          why do we need thunderbolt?
          Can we do video/film without it? Pretty sure thats a yes,

          Why does everyone get sour grapes when microsoft do something?
          Are you all just sad that apple are a shadow of their former self from 5 or so years ago?

            I have no affiliation with Apple, but when your studio is fitted out with BMD Cintel thunderbolt film scanners, thunderbolt external RAID configs, and capture equipment, then yes, Thunderbolt is critical to workflow.
            I'm sad that MS didn't include Thunderbolt as it is used extensively in production and would have been easy to incorporate. I don't care what Apple does or doesn't do, the Surface Studio looked like a winner, then inexplicably left off some key features for the creative market, which coupled with the price has meant that we are passing on it. It is just a shame is all.

              Then thats your studios fault for buying hardware that only uses thunderbolt.

              All of those are available as USB devices, no need to use proprietary connections.

          Except that in a "professional creative workstation" for video/film you need thunderbolt,

          Let me quickly check my Eizo ColorEdge.

          Nope, no thunderbolt in sight.

          *edit* also, why are you dicks insisting on redirecting me to giz.com.au, even when deliberately going to us.giz? Not everyone wants to browse a 1990s AOL layout with massive ads bracketing poorly localised content.

          Last edited 28/10/16 12:18 pm

            We don't use Eizo ColorEdge, they are relatively low-end for the broadcast market. Good for photo use though.

            Sure you can get away without Thunderbolt, there are options, but it is in widespread use in the production sector specifically, and it is an odd choice for them to leave it off a machine aimed squarely at that market.

              As I said, I have never so much as seen a Thunderbolt peripheral at the ABC, ATN 7 or TCN 9. The same is true of the dozens of post facilities I visited in my time at Autodesk. Maybe it's handy for lone operators or tiny boutique houses but the big boys have fare more integrated solutions.

          Really? Because I've been working on '"professional creative workstations" for video/film' for 20 years, and I spent six years flying all over Asia visiting other people doing the same, and I've never so much as seen a Thunderbolt peripheral, let alone a workstation I could plug one into. OTOH, USB 3 offers similar speeds to internal SSDs and there are plenty of compatible peripherals lying around everywhere. I'd put my Samsung T1 drive up against your Thunderbolt drive any day.

          I'll agree that this thing is not the powerhouse it could have been but that has nothing to do with Thunderbolt. It needs quad-core CPUs, PCIe SSDs and discrete nVidia graphics to justify it's huge price tag.

            Thunderbolt isn't just for hard drives. I work in audio and for that it offers much improved round trip latency over usb and I'd imagine there are similar advantages in other industries too.

      I remember thinking the Envy looked pretty at the time, then checking the specs, saying "pass", and moving on with my life. Not enough grunt for creatives, while being too expensive for plebs is pretty much a death sentence for tech products.

        As I said, they also did a Z1 workstation in the same form factor and it had plenty of grunt.

          Which definitely doesn't look gorgeous. Plus, I'm honestly on the Apple bandwagon for tech purchasing now. That doesn't mean that I'll be buying apple, that means I'm far more interested in hardware made by the people making the software. After buying a Lenovo Helix with Windows 8, having awful Windows 8.1 support, and then Lenovo dropping all support come Windows 10 and waiting for Windows 10 anniversary for Microsoft to pick up support and my device finally be usable again, I'm pretty done with integrated machines from hardware partners. All I can say is I'm glad I imported from the US and saved the $1000 over local pricing. From now on either I build it, or I buy Microsoft.

          Last edited 29/10/16 10:56 am

            Yeah had asus do the same thing on my older system as soon as win8 hit. No updated drivers at all.

              Worst was my wifes three year older Dell i5 which never had Windows 8 drivers ran better with Microsoft drivers the whole time until I finally got Win10 anniversary on the i7 Lenovo.

    That is pretty fucking rad.....I hate to admit

    What I find really impressive is that the operating system has been ready for this for quite some time now - they just needed to engineer the hardware. Looks like the 'courageous' Win8 experiment is finally paying off :)

      Looks like the 'courageous' Win8 experiment is finally paying off :)

      This is what I said from day one with Windows 8. While I agree it was an abysmal failure, I had to commend Microsoft for their attempt to stir the pot and through it out there. The backlash was always inevitable after doing such a great job with 7. If there is one thing I remember of 8, it would be the persistent popup requesting feedback on issues. That alone was the key to success. Paid off indeed! GG Microsoft and GG Satya Nadella!

        Win8 was a loose loose situation.
        If they changed they'd be hated for changing.
        If they stayed the same they'd be hated for lack of innovation.

    I think the MS surface range is awesome, toor pricey for me though sadly!

      I have an SP4, had an SP3.

      They are nice, but still need work.

        What would you change on them? My biggest need when I recently got my touchscreen laptop was 3 USB ports with (at least) two of them being USB 3.0, it was surprisingly hard to find one with an SSD as well!

          Well, they only have one port to begin with, which is annoying when you are trying to use a headphone amp/dac, a card reader and a wacom tablet :)

          The battery life is pretty average. It's not like a tablet where you can just pick it up the next day to use it, if you haven't left it charging it's probably dead. Means I need a charger at home and at work, and spare chargers are stupidly priced.

          The new pen is miles better than the SP3 one, but it's still a pretty average experience.

          Ditto on the new keyboard. SP3 keyboard is cancer.

          Every screen I've had exhibited light/color bleed around the edges. I sent back my SP3 twice it was so bad. That said, when you get a good one, the screen is excellent and holds calibration forever.

          Random wifi retardation. Sometimes won't work, sometimes randomly stops working. Half the time you can fix it by cycling aeroplane mode, otherwise you have to reboot.

          It's still a terrible tablet experience because there are no god damn apps in the windows store (unless you want to pay $9 to some Pune scammer for an app which is actually just a guide on how to install desktop Spotify). Which means you are pecking at tiny menus and buttons in desktop apps, and it's just an exercise in frustration. Probably the number one thing every Surface user bitches about, yet MS still hasn't done a damn thing about it. Means it's essentially just a nice laptop touchscreen with an average keyboard.

          More a win10 issue than a SP4 one, but Windows Update is pushy as hell and at least half the time I go to grab it, there is some random update installing. Happened this morning on the train, was 15 minutes before it had finished dicking around and I could actually use it. Does the same thing on my HTPC and it's absolutely infuriating.

            One port would be a massive put off for me! Same with the battery life, that's very disappointing.

            It's advertised as being an amazing screen / drawing experience but probably only suitable for non-professionals? My last phone was Windows and the apps are crap compared to my new Android ones, same on my laptop I avoid the app store where possible and just get software instead.

            Windows update is a killer too, even with the ability to select busy times (up to 12 hours) it still always finds a way to update at the worst time!

              As someone with 20 years as a graphics professional, I can assure you even my old SPro 2 was more than up to the task. Maybe not if you are an illustrator but if you're a graphic artist working in Adobe CC, SPro is the perfect thing. You can get past the single port with either a hub or a Surface Dock. I have an Asus VariDrive which is a DVD writer with extra USB ports, as well as HDMI and VGA outs. It turns my 8" Thinkpad 8 tablet into a decent enough desktop PC.

              I have never had even the slightest problem with Windows updates. It does it in the background, and I am completely unaware of it until it notifies me that it will restart at 2am the next morning if I don't shut it down sooner. And that's the default behaviour, I have never had to tell it what I want.

              I also have no problems at all working with Windows tablets. I have all the apps I need. They look beautiful, perform well and I never find myself having to revert to desktop software because I can't do what I want on an app. Maybe that's because I use my tablet for most of the same things I do on my laptop so I spend more time on the tablet's desktop than using apps. But Kindle gets regular use, as do a few weather apps, Groove (which is now excellent), Photos (even more excellent), Wikipedia and a Metro file explorer.

            My personal experience with a SP3 is that it requires a little setting up in order to get a good tablet experience. Try the following things:

            - Go into your power settings in control panel. Set the system to hibernate after 10 mins of inactivity, and set the screen to turn off after 1 min. This way, if it's been less than 10 mins of activity, all you have to do is tap on the screen to wake it, and if you walk away for more than 10 mins, it saves the current state and powers down - meaning it uses NO power, and all you have to do is press the power button to wake it again (which takes about 15 seconds). This method actually results in a tablet that FAR outlasts any on the market. I've managed to go a week with moderate use at 50% brightness before charging. Should be even better on the SP4.

            - I find the default scaling setting on the SPs (100%) to be far too small for both mouse AND touch. I find that increasing it to 125% makes even desktop apps comfortable for touch - especially Spotify. No more pecking!

            - Set your update preferences to install on next restart and to download in the background. I honestly haven't had any surprises or rude interruptions at all with either my SP3, my desktop, or HTPC.

            I think if MS could make all the above settings the default on Surface Pro devices, it would give a way better UX. Try it!

            Last edited 28/10/16 4:23 pm

              hm, thanks - it looked like it's been using sleep, which the internet tells me is going to flatten the battery after a day or two. I'll give it a shot!

                Sleep is different to hibernate. All sleep does is turn off any drives and screens. Hibernate actually saves your session and turns the whole system off. The only trade-off is that it takes about 10 seconds to wake - but if you set it to hibernate after 10 mins, chances are you're not going to mind.
                That's why I also set mine to sleep (not hibernate) after 1 min of inactivity. This lets me walk away from it for a few mins and only having to tap the screen to instantly wake it.
                Using both of these settings makes it behave like a true tablet. :)

    I really like it. it seems expensive for what it does. But it is aimed at a specific market that would pay that price.

    They should release the touchscreen monitor on its own. I've seen the demo's and so many times when the work load gets a bit on the average side, it starts to get choppy when panning, zooming and sketching. Microsoft, let designers and engineers decide on the specs of their computers and release just the touchscreen monitor please!

      I'd buy that. Personally I'm far too impatient to use integrated hardware, it just wont be fast enough for me. If something causes a drag on my workflow I'm far less productive.

      I'd like this too (in my case as a dock for a Surface Book) but I think there could be some complexities. E.g. to get a great inking experience (no lag, etc.) they use a dedicated chip to process the digital ink, that would have to live in the Surface Studio 'lite' but still talk to the host PC. The same might be true of the on screen Dial interaction.

      I'm sure all of it is possible and I wish they had done that.

    980m?! where is the Nvidia Pascal GPU?

      Have you tried a laptop with a 980m? Its a beast mobile card.

    So, Microsoft, a company which has been playing catch up by copying others in the industry for more than 10 years now. finally brought out hardware that hardware and interface that Apple gave to designers 10 years ago.

    Right at the time when PC sales are tanking and hardware is becoming largely commoditised.

    And you consider this "a tipping point"...?

      Microsoft pioneered the metro flat design into mainstream popularity before anyone excluding indie, small business startups. Both Apple and Google have eventually seen the benefit of removing drop shadows, 3D beveling, and transparency and decided to copy MSFT lead. Google brought out "Metal" their design language and their font robotica or something similar is nearly a direct copy of the MSFT wp segoe font. I don't know what Apple called their new design language but it came about in iOS7.

      Apple definitely was in the lead for hardware design but they're losing their large lead they once had with more and more premium products from Google and MSFT coming out.

      Given that Windows basically dominates the market, I dont think they give a shit about apple. Just look at OS market share statistics.

      Sorry but Apple just proved they are finished. A new Macbook that is way way over priced and has nothing new apart from a touch bar.... Apple has not innovated in years. Apple copied Microsoft on so much and apple copied HP and Samsung as well. They all copy.

      The truth is your darling Apple has had it's time. It is over for Apple. Microsoft has changed and brought in some amazing people to truly innovate. The biggest changes are coming from Microsoft not apple these days

        That touch bar isnt really new either, Its basically the same as the touch screen razer had on one of their laptops a while back. Instead of a bar up top it was a square where the number pad usually is.

        What exactly are the "big changes" that you think Microsoft is "bringing" these days?

        Incidentally: Just because I point out that Microsoft making a product that looks like something Apple made for designers 10 years ago doesn't make them "my darling".

        (I think Apple are the new Microsoft, actually.)

        Last edited 29/10/16 3:16 am

          Microsoft are clearly working to provide a whole device like Apple, and with good design like Apple, but they are off innovating in the touchscreen space. Touchscreen is the basis of Apple's mobile devices, but they have avoided it on macs.

          MS appears to be targeting the creative workstation market, delivering equivalent quality product. Their main point of differentiation is the touchscreen. The dial is very interesting as well and opens up a whole bunch of possibilities.

          It's really quite good. Competition is probably what Apple needs right now.

      What do you expect from what is basically an advertisement? And the same was said about each generation of the Surface Pros and they showed how badly Microsoft did hardware. Still, all aboard the Hype train again.

    I'm not sure what I think of this. There are a few things that I do really like the look of, but honestly for any type of "creative" work I just hate using Windows. I have a Windows PC and my phone is a Samsung, so I like to think that I am far from a fanboy, but I just find OS X gets out of the way so much better whether I'm using Photoshop, Cubase or anything else that requires you to get in some sort of zone. And I'm not convinced that I'd find a touchscreen meaningfully useful in either of those applications, but maybe I'm just too stuck in my current workflow!

    As a creative professional this is the first Microsoft product in more than 20 years that actually excites me. It's almost like Microsoft and Apple have switched... what comes out of Cuppertino increasingly looks like what a coasting Microsoft would have created 10 years ago.

    I mean Touchbar? Really Apple? That's the beast you could come up with?

      Yeah not sold on touch bar, especially considering they removed the escape button!!

      I guess restarting a laptop every time you accidentally make a video fullscreen isn't so bad...

        Basically agree with you on this. My iMac that i got last year has been amazing, and more then happy with my macbook pro i got a few years before that. Have had no interest in the surface or anything else microsoft has released in the past.

        This however has my interest, while i wont be rushing out to buy it will consider it once i feel my imac needs to be replaced. Im still a little hesitant how this will work in real world situation. Everything in the video looks so fluid but it is a demo so easier to achieve that.

        You can put the esc key in the touchbar, so it isn't really an issue.

    Amazing!! And yeah Apple has lost the plot removing so many ports on a 'Pro' laptop.

    As a freelancer, I've always preferred to keep my workstation modular, so I can choose when and what needs upgrading. However, I like the idea of this. It seems from the comments that other creative professionals don't follow this approach? What are the benefits of going for a machine like this? I'm assuming it'll be obsolete in a few years, where as by keeping a modular system with a touch screen, it can be always relatively up-to-date

    Nope - they don't quite have it sewn up yet, because they don't have what I want - I want a standard laptop with a 17" UHD display, with just average overall performance. It should have an easy to swap out main disk and battery too. (like my current Dell M4500 - I LOVE this design) HP's new Envy 17 comes close (minus the easy to swap disk & battery though).

    The music from the ad is available on BandCamp - I do hope someone more creative than me downloads it and uses it to create a mock trailer for "007: Wonka".

    now all we need is the surface phone, the Intel atom powered smartphone that allows desktop apps to run on it using continuum - a full pc on my pocket, sort of like the UMPC's, but with full win 10 mobile interface and full desktop (with x86 app support) when docked / miracast

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