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Scratching the Surface (Part 2)

March 12, 2013

Some time has passed since my initial trials with the Microsoft Surface Pro with Windows 8, and I was intrigued enough to ask Microsoft if they could spare one for some tests. (They politely told me to get in line. Meh.) But that particular computer aside, two things have led me to further suspect that finally there's an area where Microsoft may have stolen a march on Apple.

The first was something that happened at the NAMM Show in January. I stopped into the Roland booth to see what was new, and got a guided tour of SONAR X2 at the Cakewalk demo station. (Look for a review soon.) At first, my demonstrator was focusing on some of the new features built into X2 that one might expect as DAW innovations -- clip-based effects and the like. But about five or six minutes into the demo, my attention was forcibly wrenched away from what he was showing me, as I realized how he was showing it. He hadn't touched a mouse the entire time. The PC had a large touch display, and he was using SONAR X2 completely via multitouch gesture control... just putting his hands on the screen to work the faders, move windows around, fire audio clips, and so forth. I was stunned by how natural the process seemed and how seamless it was, to the point where a lot of the other new features he showed me got little of my attention (for which I apologize).

The second was the display of new computers at my local Big Box store... a casual wander-through revealed not only a few cutesy attempts to make the most of the dual multitouch/keyboard-and-mouse paradigm (e.g. a screen that pivots to face outward when the laptop's lid is closed, turning it into a gigantic, heavy tablet), but also just a wide variety of new computers, not all that more expensive than others, that happened to have touch screens. Type and mouse while you feel like it, but reach out and touch when it's appropriate? I could very much get used to working like that, although I suspect the trend might not really take off until someone figures out a way to make a machine like that which weighs under 2 pounds. (Think an iPad as the display of a MacBook Air.) Right now it's a bit clunky, but we all know that clunkiness goes away as technology takes hold.

Yeah, there will be things to think about in a rig like this that haven't been a concern in previous computer setups... it's hard enough to build a studio sweet spot where you can easily see your monitor, but to also be able to touch it without arm strain? Hoo boy. But this could be something big... Auria has opened a Pandora's Box on the iPad that can't be closed again, and Microsoft has exploded it out into the realm of established music software, as SONAR X2 leads the way into a new workflow for doing music. Right now not all DAWs can take advantage of this sort of thing, and the hardware is still kind of kludgy... but we're going this way and it's not going to stop, not if Microsoft has decided that Windows 8 is the dawn of a new touch/mous/stylus modality that we'll all be expected to get to know.

Definitely a development what need some thinkin' on... now to see if I can dredge up a multitouch-sensitive Windows 8 computer in time to be able to review SONAR X2 that way.


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