Computers

Microsoft goes all-in on creativity, with an all-in-one PC that’s also a digital drafting table

Microsoft goes all-in on creat...
The highlight of today's announcements was Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC that doubles as a digital drafting table of sorts
The highlight of today's announcements was Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC that doubles as a digital drafting table of sorts
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The highlight of today's announcements was Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC that doubles as a digital drafting table of sorts
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The highlight of today's announcements was Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC that doubles as a digital drafting table of sorts
The Surface Studio inclined into Studio Mode
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The Surface Studio inclined into Studio Mode
The Surface Dial is a companion accessory for easily scrolling through options while using the Surface Pen
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The Surface Dial is a companion accessory for easily scrolling through options while using the Surface Pen
Microsoft briefly teased AR/VR headsets with inside-out tracking, starting at only $299
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Microsoft briefly teased AR/VR headsets with inside-out tracking, starting at only $299
Microsoft's announcements from its October 2016 Windows event
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Microsoft's announcements from its October 2016 Windows event
The upgraded Surface Book (last year's model pictured) only focuses on the high-end, with longer battery life and upgraded horsepower
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The upgraded Surface Book (last year's model pictured) only focuses on the high-end, with longer battery life and upgraded horsepower

You have to hand it to Microsoft for picking a theme and sticking with it. The company took a technology-helps-you-create theme today and pummeled it into the ground with a bevy of announcements ranging from a niche new Surface to a big Windows update to virtual and augmented reality. The event's highlight, the new Surface Studio all-in-one PC, is the least consumer-focused and most, well, creator-focused Surface to date.

In a way, the Surface brand has been a story of Microsoft taking a touchscreen computer line of thinking and applying it, one-by-one, to key members of Apple's product lineup. The Surface Pro series simultaneously took on the iPad and MacBook Air. The Surface Book was an obvious answer to the MacBook Pro. And starting today, Surface Studio is the lineup's foil to the iMac.

The US$3,000 Surface Studio is a thin all-in-one (AIO) PC with a huge 28-inch touch-friendly "4.5K" display. Applying the brand's touch-first theme, using Surface Pen and a new Surface Dial accessory, to an AIO makes it not just a modern take on the desktop PCs of old, but also a digital canvas for artists and – here it is again – "creators."

The Surface Studio inclined into Studio Mode
The Surface Studio inclined into Studio Mode

When you want to switch from typical desktop PC tasks to "Studio Mode" (above), you slide the screen down to a 20-degree angle (which Microsoft says is the same angle as a standard drafting table) and use the combination of Pen and Dial to have a visceral experience that, at least in theory, intuitively blends the worlds of technology and artistry.

The $100 Surface Dial (below) is a small, wireless and cylindrical accessory that you twist to do things like bring up different menu options in apps like Photoshop, pan through color options and gradations, or rewind/fast-forward your history in a document. From the perspective of content-creation, this kind of tool has the potential to marry with the pen to allow artists to cut the traditional mouse/keyboard combo out of the equation altogether: Microsoft envisions this two-handed approach to be the artist's toolset of the future.

The Surface Dial is a companion accessory for easily scrolling through options while using the Surface Pen
The Surface Dial is a companion accessory for easily scrolling through options while using the Surface Pen

Surface Studio launches later this year as one hardware counterpart to the upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update, with an emphasis on making the creation of 3D content something that's simple and accessible to the masses. A new version of the age-old Microsoft Paint, Paint 3D, will be the pinnacle of this angle.

Why the focus on 3D content? That would be because the company is still going all-in on AR and VR – a la HoloLens – as the future of computing. And if that future is to be a Microsoft-friendly one, the company needs not just developers making games and apps, but regular folks digging into other 3D content they can create and share. So we have demos like the one we saw today, where Microsoft uses a smartphone to scan a sand castle, which a company rep then inserts into a 3D Word doc, and a HoloLens user then puts a virtual version of on a stand next to the real, physical one (though Microsoft failed to illustrate that the HoloLens user probably only saw about 2/3 of the castle, with the headset's piddly field of view).

Microsoft briefly teased AR/VR headsets with inside-out tracking, starting at only $299
Microsoft briefly teased AR/VR headsets with inside-out tracking, starting at only $299

One of the most enticing points of today's announcements was little more than a tease: Microsoft made a quick mention that, as part of the Windows 10 Creators Update, partners including HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus and Acer (that's a rogue's gallery of predictable, often-unsexy Microsoft partners if we've ever seen one) will be releasing PC-tethered VR/AR headsets with inside-out tracking that start at just $299.

Details beyond that appear to be not just scant, but nonexistent. But if these companies can nail both the VR and AR aspects, without any need for external sensors and at those price points (keeping in mind the Rift starts at $599 and the Vive at $799), this could be a big development in the virtual space. Those are big "ifs," though, and the brevity of Microsoft's mention suggests they likely aren't anywhere near ready for prime time.

The upgraded Surface Book (last year's model pictured) only focuses on the high-end, with longer battery life and upgraded horsepower
The upgraded Surface Book (last year's model pictured) only focuses on the high-end, with longer battery life and upgraded horsepower

The classic Surfaces, the Surface Pro and Surface Book, didn't receive any full-generational updates today, but the company did launch an incrementally-upgraded Surface Book – though only at the highest-end (Core i7) model. Now dubbed "Surface Book with Performance Base," the new model has 30 percent extra battery life over the previous model, along with 6th-gen Intel Core processors and more powerful graphics. It starts at $2,399 and skyrockets all the way up to $3,299, further emphasizing today's focus on creator-focused hardware, software and content. A consumer-y shindig this was not.

The Surface Studio, new Surface Book and Surface Dial are up for pre-order today. The updated Surface Book and Dial both ship November 10 and Surface Studio will begin "shipping in limited quantities this holiday with broader availability in early 2017."

Product page: Microsoft

9 comments
Bob Flint
That's one expensive drafting table... Come to think of it do those people at Microsoft even know what a real drafting table is or even looks like, you know complete with pencil tray, & sharpener, T-square, or if you splurged a parallel rule, or the ultimate adjustable set square.
Rann Xeroxx
My company is a high end manufacturer with a long history of design, some of our products are featured in the Museum of Modern Art. When I go to our design campus, no one has a "drafting table". A few have Macs but since Apple really has practically abandoned designers with their Mac Pro offerings, we use mostly PCs with multiple large monitors and digital pads. Frankly what I would have liked to have seen would have been a monitor with all the abilities of the Surface Studio but just plugged into a powerful tower. With that said, I can totally see us getting these Studio devices for our designers.
S Michael
This is not for the average Joe. Way past my price range. But then, MS isn't looking to sell this product to us peons, it a corporate toy. To bad....
AdrianWolf
So it has a near 2 year old GPU servicing a huge, dense, "4.5K resolution" screen and isn't actually shipping NOW? This is going to be a dog for even modest performance in any creative suite...and at that price is likely not even upgradable down the road...
Robert in Vancouver
It's no good for use in an office with overhead lights or a room with windows. I wouldn't buy this computer even if the price was $500.00 because the glossy screen makes it too hard to use for any length of time or for detailed work in a normal office setting.
Lbrewer42
History has proven that Microsoftgreat at hyping their AMAZNG new products that turn out in hand, to be a lot less than worthy of the advertised product (if the product, indeed, ever comes to light). The modern snake oil salesmen for sure. Microsoft lives b/c the masses are too programmed by peers to ignore the old saying that a fool and their money are soon parted. These same people rarely look into other options or they would be amazed at how stress free, and much simpler computing can be. I have spent a lot of time in the Microsoft camp since the 80s. I have been back and forth to Apple also. When Microsoft starts delivering what they claim, I think snow will be common in summer. Unfortunately i also see Apple becoming more and more Microsoft-ish in their approach to software. Apple is starting to "simplify" things by making more and longer the amount of steps for a simple task, and making more and more annoying "Are you sure?" requestors popping up. Very sad. I long for the day, once again, where computers will be like the now-antique Amiga platform which was totally intuitive to operate (software and hardware). The Amiga had all the power of modern platforms for its day (and beyond even today's computer platform abilities in some cases like actual multitasking). Am I impressed with this new Microsoft product? I like what they appear to be offering. But by now I have lost so much money and time on productivity over the years from Microsoft, that I they could give me 10 of these and it would not compensate for the years of frustration they have caused. Once again this reminds me of how cool I thought the debut of the Surface was... until the person demonstrating the Surface had to quickly go get the spare unit he had already prepared b/c the one in his hands crashed! Most of the masses totally missed the fact that the demonstrator, by having another Surface so close at hand, knew there was a distinct possibility of Microsoft's new, amazing, cutting edge, powerful, reliable Surface unit crashing -- this is why he had a spare handy. And yet people fell for it once again... If people would hold off buying (or return for refund) until Microsoft would deliver what they claim, we would be a lot further ahead.
Calson
Truly sad that Microsoft is still working with a 1980's business model based on desktop computers. 90% of computers are now in the form of tablets and smartphones and Microsoft's market share of smartphones is less than 1%. Microsoft under Gates and Ballmer has managed to go from having 90% of the computer market down to only 10% in a period of a single decade.
Grunchy
I have a USB keyboard with a knob built right in! It's used for controlling the volume. Sadly I retired it recently because I got a mechanical keyboard for under $40. Oh well, I barely ever used that knob anyway. Young people may not be aware but waaay back in the day, you could get knob-based "paddle" controllers for the Atari 2600. They were notorious for being lousy controls. You'd have to dismantle them & spray contact cleaner for them to work properly. Consequently - they died an ignominious death. So, whatevs.
oldguy
Oh Yeah ? You wait, next year Mac will have its own version of a digital drafting table. They are soon gonna realize that abandoning designers for the beaurocrats was a mistake. 'Course the drafting pen will cost an extra $400.