New Surfaces announced; StaffPad for Windows 10 on the horizon

by Philip Rothman on October 7, 2015 · 12 comments

in News

In just a few years, we’ve gone from “stylus…yecch” to “stylus…yeah!” Although Apple is finally getting in the game with a pen-and-touch system for pro tablets, it’s Microsoft that first demonstrated the viability of the stylus and has been pushing its full integration into the PC experience with its Surface line of devices.

Yesterday Microsoft announced the next generation of Surfaces, including the Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Book. The Surface Pro 4 manages to improve the screen resolution and size from its predecessor, among other improvements, and the Surface Book is taking the detachable keyboard concept to its most advanced level yet — a fully powered laptop with an additional GPU inside the keyboard.

Both Surfaces will be available October 26: the Surface Pro costs $900 and the Surface Book costs $1,500.

Last night at a Microsoft launch event in New York, I had a chance to try out the new devices. While there was quite a gathering to try out a Surface Hub and a number of gaming devices, I was most interested in taking the music software out for a spin.

In conjunction with the announcement, StaffPad co-founder David William Hearn announced that StaffPad for Windows 10 will be released as a free update at the end of October, along with the new Surfaces. It’s not a minor update; it’s rebuilt to fully take advantage of the new OS, including new features like partial bar selection, swing playback, handwritten dynamics symbols recognition, sketch layer colors, and a new voice activated smart assistant.

The basic concept hasn’t changed, though — if you use StaffPad already, you’ll easily adapt to the improvements (read our initial comprehensive review of StaffPad here).

staffpad-10

The early build was on display for visitors to get their hands on it, and so far, the results are impressive. In addition to the features described above, the toolbars are nicely consolidated into a single position at the top of the screen, resulting in a much more natural experience as opposed to having to swipe up from the bottom to access certain features.

One particularly interesting development to me wasn’t specific to StaffPad, but had to do with the Surface’s new stylus. It finally has a proper eraser where you’d expect it to be, at the top of the pen, instead of as a button on the side. I had almost as much fun erasing music as I did writing it, though admittedly it was slightly slower since you have to flip around the pen to use it, of course.

David made the trip over from London and was on hand to give demos and to visit with users.

dwh-oct

I was also intrigued by a version of Bitwig Studio that is optimized for the Surface. Bitwig is a DAW that is geared for both live performance and studio production, and founder Claes Johanson was present to talk visitors through the multi-touch features and gestures like the radial menu and touch keyboard.

bitwig

While yesterday’s announcement wasn’t a music-central event, it was nice to see these impressive apps prominently featured as part of Microsoft’s strategy for promoting the Surface and its potential for creative users, as evidenced by the prominence of StaffPad in the morning presentation:

It may also explain Avid’s recent focus on optimizing Sibelius for the Surface (at the expense, some might argue, of developing other notation and engraving features for the moment).

If you’re a Windows user (or thinking about becoming one) and are starting to wonder whether your next music device should be a laptop or a tablet, Microsoft has made it so it’s approaching the point where you may no longer have to choose between the two.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Luis October 7, 2015 at 10:14 AM

I am loving this Surface 4. Mainly, of course, because of the music writing. If writing music could be like typing words, that would be epic. For now, though, this is the way to go. Just beautiful! When I make some money from my music, I’ll have to invest in one of these. ;-)

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Sanifu Hall October 7, 2015 at 12:56 PM

Fantastic news here Phiilip; this , with the upcoming upgrades , is a real game changer! I’ll change the way I create my music. Thanks for all the great updates too.

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Max Tofone October 8, 2015 at 1:35 AM

Thanks a lot Philip for this update!

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Peter Roos October 8, 2015 at 8:54 PM

Can’t wait to save up enough money to buy the Surface Pro 4 and StaffPad, and give it a spin. Thanks very much Philip for this follow up.

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Gareth Briggs October 10, 2015 at 12:14 AM

So this looks ok if you’re David William Hearn, who is obviously a genius with perfect handwriting and skill. The real question is: how does it handle my practically illegible chicken scratch… Does it work for us mere mortals?? How fallible is it??

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Jason Parrish October 10, 2015 at 3:38 AM

Do you know if both StaffPad and the Surface Pen will be usable on 2-in-1 Notebooks that still run Windows? I’d love to use this!

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Steve October 12, 2015 at 9:07 AM

I do know that Staffpad works with Wacom pen tablets (Bamboo, Intuos, Intuos Pro), offering a much cheaper solution compared to a new Surface tablet.

True, you won’t be able to draw directly on your screen but works nevertheless. So if you’re having a drawing tablet lying around: give it a try! And if you don’t have a tablet yet, buy one (Intuos starting at $69.95 on amazon) and save over a thousand dollars!

BTW, you can try a demo of the technology behind Staffpad (MyScript) here: http://webdemo.myscript.com/#/demo/music

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Chris October 12, 2015 at 6:50 PM

MyScript is *not* the technology behind StaffPad – it’s completely new, proprietary technology built by StaffPad themselves, and it’s not available anywhere else. Yes, you can buy a Wacom tablet and use it with StaffPad, but the developers themselves do not recommended it.

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Steve October 13, 2015 at 4:50 AM

Hi Chris,

thanks for clarifying that. MyScript does mention Staffpad in one of its blog posts though, but I might have jumped to conclusions too fast. However, I couldn’t find anything about Staffpad’s recognition technology being completely built from the ground up. Can you tell me where to find that?

I respectfully disagree with you when you say that the developers do not recommend using a Wacom tablet. In their FAQ section, they write that Mac users “need a peripheral to give you pen and touch support, such as those made by Wacom.” and a little further down they state that: “You can purchase a USB pen tablet, such as the Wacom Bamboo, and use it with StaffPad.” adding, “… the experience of writing on a separate graphics tablet, which sits on your desk, is very different to that of writing directly onto the screen. The cognitive distance of writing on the desk, but looking at the screen can be quite awkward, although it gets easier with practice. Still, the most natural experience is to write directly onto the screen.”

I won’t argue with that last statement, but I hope people realize that thousands of professional graphic designers and artists around the world use a separate tablet to draw, paint and write every day. Often very precise work. So, the “cognitive distance” argument doesn’t sound that convincing to me. And now that I think about it , nor does the “write directly on screen” argument. Have you ever worked on a tablet for a considerable amount of time? You’ll either have to hold the tablet up (resulting in heavy arms) or lay the tablet flat on your desk (resulting in a cramped neck muscles from having to constantly look down). A separate pen tablet in combination with desktop computer (or properly place notebook) tackles both problems: you can rest your arms on your desk, while keeping your eyes on the screen in front of you.

Now, I don’t want to get into an argument here. It just amazes me how many people are willing to buy a $1000+ device when they can easily use a much cheaper set-up with the same results.

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David October 13, 2015 at 5:25 AM

Hi Steve,

David from StaffPad here – someone pointed me at this post.

To clarify: there is _absolutely_ no MyScript technology in StaffPad at all. I found the blog post you mentioned, back in April, but they actually do state that it’s our own technology in it – I think they were just (confusingly) trying to highlight that it’s an interesting use of pen/ink. We spent a long time building our own system, which is very complex, totally unique, designed for music, and bespoke to us. There isn’t any public information about our recognition method – and we want to keep it that way, ideally :)

Thanks,
David

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Steve October 13, 2015 at 6:47 AM

Hi David,

thanks for chipping in! You’re absolutely right. This is from the MyScript blog post:

“[Staffpad] features its own handwriting recognition, making it easier for composers, orchestrators, teachers and hobbyists to write music digitally.”

I interpreted this passage to mean that Staffpad doesn’t need an external third party app or plugin to do that, like Sibelius and NotateMe for example).

Thanks for a wonderful piece of software by the way!

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Sergio November 10, 2015 at 3:45 PM

Does anyone know if Sibelius is supported on Windows 8+ touch screen PC with wide screen (27″+)? Thank you.

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