There were two amazing things that came out of Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 event, and neither of them came from the team that actually makes Windows. Just after Microsoft revealed the new Surface Book with Performance Base and the Surface Studio, the company announced its most exciting hardware accessory for Surfaces – or any PC for that matter. That device is called the Surface Dial, and it’s been all that industry watchers can talk about — even if they’re not necessarily sold on the viability of a $3000 computer.
The Surface Dial is Microsoft’s second time trying to create an accessory that blends analog input with something digital; the company tried and succeed first with the Surface Pens that now come with the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, Surface Studio and Surface Book. The Surface Pen was made to recreate the sensation that users get when they’re picking up an expensive pen and writing on real paper. Surface Dial is an accessory that works on the touchscreen of Surface’s too. It lets users quickly do things without hunting around in a menu.
What is the Surface Dial?
A rounded metal puck with a black base, the Surface Dial looks like someone pulled the knob off a very expensive piece of audio equipment. We can be sure that’s by design.
The same aluminum that the Surface Studio is wrapped in, is used for the Surface Dial. This gives it a high-sheen finish, and ensures that it can survive in your bag with other accessories and not get damaged. A black pad keeps the device from slipping off any flat surface while it’s being turned. Microsoft hopes that the Surface Dial will offer a quick, tactile way for users to change digital pen tip colors or adjust the volume from a music app. That being said, it’s on developers to decide what they enable. The Surface Dial can be turned clockwise or counter-clockwise. The device’s entire body is a button. It communicates with other devices over Bluetooth 4.0.
The same black pad that keeps it from shifting on a flat surface also keeps it from sliding off a touchscreen at an angle, which is very important. The Surface Dial can be used on more than just a table. In fact, the best moment of the Surface Studio reveal video was when a user picked up the Surface Dial from a table and placed it on the Surface Studio’s display. Options flowed out from the Dial, letting the user change brush type and paint color. To make sure that the mind registers a turn or a button press, the Dial has vibration motors built-in.
During the Surface Pro 4 reveal, Microsoft said that a high number of people who purchased a Surface used the Surface Pen. In class or at work, more people felt comfortable writing in a way that they’re used to. Once that barrier was broken, the Surface became the only device they needed. Microsoft is clearly trying to do that again with the Surface Dial.
2 AAA batteries power the Surface Dial, hinting that Microsoft learned its lesson with the Surface Pen’s AAAA batteries. They’re surprisingly hard to find.
What Surfaces Are Compatible with the Surface Dial?
Usually, Surface accessories are pretty limited in scope. That is to say, that they rarely ever work with anything but a Surface. That’s not the case with the Surface Dial.
Because the Surface Dial uses Bluetooth technology, it’s able to communicate with devices other than the Surface. In fact, any user with a device running Windows 10 will be able to use it to control apps with it on their desk. That being said, it’s second mode is very much something that only Surface owners can experience. Initially, Microsoft said that using the device on screen would be limited to the Surface Studio. That’ll be the case until a firmware update adds support for this mode to the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book sometime next year. Microsoft’s Terry Myerson confirmed these details in a recent interview with The Verge.
Apps Confirmed to Work with Surface Dial
Microsoft has made entire divisions out of empowering app and program makers to build things for their software. At least, for now, the Surface Dial isn’t one of those things. Developers will have to work directly with Microsoft to add support for the Dial to their apps. The Microsoft Store’s website has 17 apps confirmed for the accessory.
Two music players work with the accessory, Groove Music and Spotitfy. Drawboard PDF, Revu, Sketchable, Moho 12, Staffpad, Plumbago, Sketchpad, PewPew Shooter, Microsoft Photos and Paint all work too. Microsoft says that Windows itself will boast some functionality. So will the desktop versions of Word, Power Point and Excel. The store version of OneNote is included in the list of working apps too.
Surface Dial Release Date & Pre-Orders
Ordering a Surface Dial from the Microsoft Store now gets it to you on November 17th. Like other Surface accessories, it’s not cheap; the device costs $99.99 before taxes.
From what’s been said about the accessory, the Surface Dial could be just as big to the Surface ecosystem as the Surface Pro 3’s major pen revision. We’ll have to wait until early next year to find out whether it truly makes for a more productive experience.