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.