Apple came along years later with tablets, but using touch instead of pen. And Apple succeeded where Microsoft failed.
Microsoft has accepted the desirability of touch interfaces, and has been shipping great products that use them, including Windows Phone and PixelSense, the touch table formerly known as Surface.
They have, however, never give up on pens.
Perceptive Pixel has some very interesting technology, both on the hardware and software sides, which integrates multi-touch finger input with pen input.
Just two months ago, PPI launched their “active stylus” user interface, which enables simultaneous touch and pen input.
The system recognizes and ignores palms, and only responds to fingertips. It’s so sophisticated that you can simultaneously move a sheet of virtual paper with your fingers while you’re writing on it with a pen.
It gets better. The system can accept up to four pen inputs at once, enabling multiple users.
Three recent events suggest Microsoft’s strategy for dominating the multi-touch PC of tomorrow.
First, Microsoft announced Windows 8, which is a hybrid desktop and touch-tablet operating system. The company’s Metro UI is optimized for touch, but will be used by Windows 8 customers using mice. That same UI will be used with fingertips on tablets.
Windows 8 suggests that Microsoft intends to aggressively push the Windows world, kicking-and-screaming, into the future of touch.
Second, Microsoft announced Surface, a high-end tablet that was well received by the media when introduced. Surface tells us that Microsoft intends to compete with Apple in the tablet space, even if it has to become a hardware company to do it.
And third, Microsoft acquired Perceptive Pixel, which suggests that Microsoft will attempt to own the big-dollar high end of multi-touch computing in the enterprise, in science and engineering and in government, and work to bring the costs down until those same technologies can be afforded by end users.
And let’s not forget PixelSense, the touch-table technology that Microsoft OEM partner Samsung has been selling to casinos and retails stores since 2007. Vertical applications tend to be boring, but PixelSense has always been exciting.
When you combine all these assets and initiatives, it’s clear that Microsoft has the strongest range of multi-touch technologies in the industry, especially on the high end.
Whether the company can leverage those technologies into a position of market leadership is another issue.
But so far, they’re hitting all the right touch points.