Microsoft’s “Magic Wall” Tech on Windows 8 Laptops & Tablets by Next Year

Microsoft announced its acquisition of Perceptive Pixel just as it was preparing to launch Windows 8, Office 13 and the Surface tablet. The timing wasn’t by chance: The maker of huge multi-touch screens – check out CNN’s eight-foot “magic wall” – is an integral part of software giant’s bet-the-company leap into mobile and tablet computing. Microsoft isn’t likely to spend much time or treasure building giant displays. It’s after much bigger game. And if it succeeds, the Windows experience will never be the same.

Founded in 2006 by Jeff Han, Perceptive Pixel was famous for multi-touch technology before Apple launched it into the mainstream with the first iPhone in 2007. But the question about Perceptive Pixel’s technology has always been scalability: Can the company’s big-screen tech be shrunk down to the size of a laptop PC?

“It’s very scalable,” answers Jennifer Colegrove, a vice president and analyst for NPD DisplaySearch, a market research firm. It’s already possible to incorporate Perceptive Pixel’s technology into displays as small as 27 inches. Scaling it down to laptop or tablet size would require “some adjustment, but it would not be terribly difficult,” she said. Expect to see greatly improve multi-touch capabilities in Windows 8 PCs and tablets in about a year, she says. 

Perceptive Pixel’s technology is based on the same technology used by Apple’s multi-touch screens, but the implementation is different. It dramatically improves the ability to use an active pen to write on a screen. Unlike a passive pen, the active pen translates the amount of force applied by the user into a thicker or thinner line, making it possible to submit an accurate, electronic rendition of a signature, or to sketch fairly complex objects. On a more sophisticated level, an active pen enables a user to take notes on a tablet and then save them in an editable, searchable format, instead of simply saving the notes as a fixed image. 

You’ll pay a premium for that technology, but it won’t be large. Incorporating conventional touch technology in a laptop adds about $50 to the cost; adding Perceptive Pixel’s capabilities will cost another $20 or so, Colegrove says. The boost to the display industry, though, will be substantial. Total touch screen module revenue will reach $16 billion in 2012, and nearly double in six years, reaching $31.9 billion by 2018, according to NPD DisplaySearch.

Image courtesy of Perceptive Pixel.

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