Jaime posted an article yesterday pointing out a few reasons why he is no longer excited about the Microsoft Surface Pro. I’m a different type of person though, and I was very excited to hear that the Surface Pro would be available on February 9th. Sure it’s a couple weeks later than originally expected due to retailer refresh cycle scheduling, but I fully intend to line up to buy one that weekend.
The reason I consider myself different from most of the other tech journalists out there is that this isn’t my only job. I have other jobs that require other skills that make use of computing tools that have been in development for over 20 years. I’m not just about typing words on a keyboard. Sometimes I’m modeling and animating museum exhibit mock ups. Sometimes I’m creating projection animations for trade shows. Sometimes I’m photographing weddings and fashion shows with thousands of RAW photos that need to be processed very quickly. The Surface Pro represents a best-of-breed tablet that not only boasts extreme portability, but also includes the hardware required to run many of the high-end tools that I’ve become accustomed to. Not only that, but it includes a pressure sensitive stylus.
Pressure Sensitive Stylus
Yes, one of Jaime’s points was that there are already plenty of Windows 8 tablets out there to choose from. I’ve looked at most of them and often have found areas that weren’t quite good enough. For example, many of the new Windows 8 tablets are running cheaper low-powered processors… or they don’t have pressure sensitive stylus support… or they’re too big and thick… or they feel cheaply made. Even if they do have pressure sensitive stylus support, sometimes the active digitizer drivers don’t always implement the full tablet API specifications… and if those driver developers decide to skimp out on implementing the “WinTab” API, then that means no pressure sensitive support in Adobe’s Creative Suite. I’m feeling pretty confident that Microsoft will be knowledgeable enough to implement all of the tablet APIs that they developed in order to ensure full compatibility with Adobe’s creation software. They showed Adobe Photoshop in the Surface Pro’s intro video on YouTube after all!
The advantages of a pressure sensitive stylus are huge when it comes to accurate content creation. I can control the thickness or transparency while in the middle of a brush stroke or vector drawing. With a track-pad or mouse, that’s impossible. I’d have to use keyboard shortcuts to repeatedly adjust each tiny little brush stroke to get the desired results and that can get very tedious on something like a Macbook laptop.
Another aspect that still excites me about the Surface Pro is its unique industrial design. The ridiculously thin cardboard-like keyboard cover is very unique and definitely brings a certain wow factor. I know some people aren’t that impressed with it since it seems expensive and the keys don’t move, but… look at how thin it is! And look at the color choices! Of course, the Surface is designed to accept a more traditional “Type Cover” with real tactile keys as well, should I feel frustrated with the thin one. Bluetooth and USB keyboards are also easy additions since the Surface Pro will be compatible with practically anything.
Then there’s the kickstand; another unique feature that really hasn’t been done before. Seeing the durability of the magnesium alloy frame as it was dropped on stage during the Surface RT launch was also quite impressive. Overall it’s a huge departure from the design conventions of both consumer tablets like the iPad and the Tablet PC convertibles of old.
Microsoft knows that Windows 8 is the biggest computer interaction design change since Windows 95 and that’s a pretty big deal. The old way of doing things by clicking on little drop-down menus and moving a little arrow down to the command you want really is not going to work with the interaction methods of the future. I’m not talking about just touch UI’s, but also speech, eye tracking and three dimensional gesture recognition interaction methods like what the Xbox Kinect has pioneered. That’s why a new user interface design had to be introduced. Unfortunately, all of those high-end software tools that professionals have been relying on for the past 20 years don’t translate so easily to the new UI… therefore there’s still a secondary environment for running those programs. I don’t really care, because that means I have the best of both worlds. On one hand, I’ll be able to connect the Surface Pro to the Xbox 360 while sitting on the couch and take advantage of the nice new SmartGlass apps… or I’ll be able to swipe through news, maps, Zinio magazines, Nook/Kindle books and cool touch sensitive games/apps… or I’ll be able to snap the stylus off the side and make some shared nested master page templates with text variables that auto-populate header/footer/title fields for a book I might be designing.
Not only do I get all the good new stuff and all of the great legacy programs, but with Windows 8 I’ll also have much better performance than any other Microsoft operating system (besides NT4 perhaps.) While Windows 7 was great, there is no way that I’d want to go back. Even on my desktop I’m finding Windows 8 to be far more efficient since the number of clicks for many tasks have been shortened.
This kind of goes along with having Windows 8 as the operating system. I never took the time to figure out how to print something from a consumer tablet like an iPad mainly because it’s not even capable of opening the types of files that I want to print. Since the Surface Pro has full Windows 8, I know for sure that I’ll be able to install drivers for the printers I already have (such as the color calibrated Epson Stylus Pro 4800 medium format proofing printer) and easily print to them through network shares that are already set up. Oh, and after I use my 3D modeling software to create STL files, I can print those to a 3D printer in order generate a real life physical model.
Having Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 means I’ll have a beautifully smooth full screen tablet web browser, but I’ll also have a desktop version of the browser for more traditional website that still use plug-ins like Flash, Silverlight, Java, etc. I could even install multiple web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera if I want to.
The USB 3.0 port means I can plug in just about anything. I can tether my DSLR and use the Surface Pro to control the camera’s settings, set focus points on the screen, and store the RAW images as they are taken. If the MicroSDHC card and 128Gb SSD start getting full, I can plug in a USB 3.0 portable 500Gb hard drive to archive a few things while on the go.
One of the big draws that Apple has enjoyed was that their products were like status symbols. If you owned one, that made you part of the cool kids club. According to some reports, It’s no longer cool to own Apple products, but the Microsoft Surface on the other hand is very cool. People are going to know that’s a Surface when you flip the keyboard out and click that kickstand down. Microsoft was never really able to generate that kind of buzz, but it looks like they may have changed that when it comes to the Surface tablets.