Microsoft has long been a driver of alternate user interaction models on the PC; its first mouse shipped back in 1983, two years before Windows appeared and a year before the Apple Macintosh made the mouse mainstream. Then came the first pen- and stylus-driven operating systems, with pen support for Windows 3.1 in 1995. Windows XP and Tablet PC took that model a lot further, while touch support arrived in Windows Vista.

Now, with the current generation of Windows, those familiar computer interactions are joined by cameras (both the familiar 2D and newer depth-based devices), dials, voice, and even eye-tracking hardware. That’s a lot to think about when developing new applications, especially when supporting a flexible, mobile workforce that often bring their own hardware, and who want to use every feature they’ve paid for.

Like much of Windows’s new functionality you won’t be able to get full access to these new features with Win32. Instead, you’re going to need to use the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) APIs to add alternative input methods to your applications. That’s part of Microsoft’s plan to migrate Windows application development to the Windows 10 platform (and ). Older Windows releases won’t get access to these features, which depend on new hardware—although in some cases third-party drivers will be usable on older versions of Windows.

Introducing the wheel, the Windows 10 UI for smooth contextual actions

One of the new device categories is the wheel, perhaps best known through Microsoft’s own Surface Dial. But Surface Dial is not the only device that supports these APIs; other wheel devices are now shipping from vendors like Dell.