As fascinating as the Surface Studio might be, without one particular optional accessory, it’s really just a gigantic, but well endowed, Surface tablet. Microsoft all-in-one computer’s spellbinding appeal is thanks partly to the Surface Pen but probably more importantly thanks to the odd but fancy Surface Dial remote control. And to hammer down on how game changing this little puck can be, Microsoft has released not one, not even two or three, but five ads that show how, with the right app mixed with the right tool, great things can happen.
When Microsoft unveiled the Surface Dial, one of the first apps it demoed was Sketchable. This third-party painting app made by a small startup exploded in popularity in the Windows Store, especially for the Surface Pro tablets, making it the perfect poster boy for the new device. In Sketchable, the Surface Dial takes on the role of a precision instrument, allowing artists to pick colors, select brush sizes, and rotate the canvas in a way that’s more precise than using touch but feels more natural than entering hard numbers.
Drawboard was another app that was showcased early on. Unlike Sketchable, Drawboard is more of a document editing and annotation app. That doesn’t mean, however, that it won’t have use for the Surface Dial. Particularly interesting is how its developers have taken advantage of the accessory’s round nature and turned it into a digital protractor.
Some within the same subject is Bluebeam, which is an engineering and architecture program. The interesting bit here is how the Dial becomes a sort of magnifying glass. When placed on the screen, its splits the view of the current document and where the Dial is place on one side will show zoomed up on the other side.
Mental Canvas takes the Surface Dial from 2D into the realm of 3D. While the Dial also functions like on Sketchable, allowing users to select colors and brush sizes at the twist of the, well, dial, it also has another function specific to Mental Canvas. In particular, it allows users to fly through the app’s unique 3D-esque space.
And if you thought that the Surface Dial makes sense only to visual creatives, StaffPad would prove you wrong. The music writing apps has already been featured before in Microsoft’s Surface Pro marketing, and here it’s back for the Surface Dial. As the app has no need for colors and brushes, the Dial takes on a different duty in StaffPad, aside from interface navigation and playback controls. Amusingly, it functions like a rubber, cloning notes and measures from one place to another.
While the Surface Studio itself won’t be available until next year, or late this year at the earliest, the Surface Dial will become available first. That’s because the rotary control can also be used by itself as a Bluetooth remote. That said, its magic really happens when you place it on a screen, but only the Surface Studio and, through a firmware update, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, are supported.