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Microsoft's Windows chief: Surface Dial is just the beginning

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Objects on screen could be the next big input modality

Microsoft's Windows chief sees a future where the regular input devices —€” touch, mouse and keyboard, or stylus —€” are complimented by objects that interact with a PC's screen. Talking to The Verge after Microsoft's Surface event yesterday, Windows and devices chief Terry Myerson discussed the new Surface Studio, radial menus, the Surface Dial, and more.

Microsoft's new Surface Studio is aimed at creatives, designed as an all-in-one PC with a 28-inch display that glides down into a drawing mode. One of the core ideas behind the Studio is the concept of using both hands as input at the same time. "When the team went out and looked at the creative process, there is something about this idea that people use both hands," explains Myerson, in an interview with The Verge. "This idea that when someone holds a pen, what is the other hand doing so you can bring them back into the full creative zone?"

surface dial

Microsoft's answer is the new Surface Dial. It's a puck-shaped device that can attach itself to the screen of the Surface Studio or stand alone on a desk to offer a new form of input. One of the more impressive demonstrations was a third-party SketchUp app that allowed you to adjust colors, the size of ink, and a lot more from the new Surface Dial. It really demonstrates exactly why, if you're a creator, you'd want to use this type of input.

The Dial acts as a hardware gateway to activate software features that are generally hidden away in menus and difficult to discover. It triggers a radial menu interface, the type that Microsoft has been experimenting with for years and that feels natural when you're using touch to interact with the Surface Studio. It might look like the future of touch computing, but Myerson isn't sold on using it everywhere in Windows just yet.

"Right now, I think there's no grand plan to make that the new menu. There are places where they're being used, and I think they're great. We'll listen and learn. Right now we've used them in specific places where they've felt exactly right."

Microsoft Surface GIFs

What's really interesting about this new accessory is its potential. Microsoft is allowing third-party developers to create their own radial menus that activate within their app when the Dial is used. It's not just third-party developers that will be able to make use of the technology behind the Dial.

"Everything we're doing here, we're actively working with partners on their own expression of the idea," says Myerson, acknowledging that PC makers like Dell, Lenovo, and HP could make their own Surface Dials. "We put a lot of R&D into creating these. We're going to try lots of ideas, and we're going to develop some of them and get really serious about them, but then all of this technology is available to our partners. I look forward to them taking the pieces of it and creating their own expression for their own customers."

PC makers will be able to make their own Surface Dials

That could mean a future of accessories that sit on top of the display, and it's something that Microsoft first started experimenting with for its original Surface table. Myerson appears to welcome and believe in this new form of input. "We’ve gotta push the interaction models forward, it’s kind of the technical core," he says, so we could see a lot more of this in future Surface devices. "The idea that this is a new input, this idea of objects on screen is going to be a real input modality is absolutely right," explains Myerson. "We're so excited to really getting started on it with Studio."