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The Stack Archive

Microsoft buys Israeli digital pen and touchscreen manufacturer

Thu 12 Feb 2015

According to Israeli website Calcalist [Hebrew language], Microsoft has purchased Israeli tech manufacturer N-trig for a sum that may reach $200mn (£130mn). N-trig specialises in the development and production of digital pens and touchscreens.

The report claims that a new R&D centre will be established that will investigate the possibilities of new touch technology in combination with digital stylus input. The article also claims that ‘the pen is an integral part of Microsoft’s strategy for its tablet’, and notes recent comments in The Wall Street Journal that MS are particularly keen on the possibilities of pen technology with its OneNote app.

N-trig personnel stands at 190 employees, 160 of which are based in Kfar Saba in the Sharon region of Israel. One hundred of these are actively engaged in research and development. The staff are thought to be headed for integration with Microsoft Israel. Calcalist reports that there are ‘a number of configurations’ in which the transaction could occur, with variations between human capital and technology – presumably including patents.

Talking to ZDNet last year, Eyal Leibovitz, Vice-President of R&D at N-Trig noted that the company had overcome some of the typical problems that had plagued stylus input in its earlier days: “Our active pen functions like a regular pen and is very accurate — often on a sub-pixel level, to ensure a high level of control – rapid refresh to accurately capture ink subtleties, and 256 distinct levels of pressure sensitivity for more exact control. We also have patented palm rejection capabilities, interchangeable tips for different pressure levels.”

Microsoft uses N-trig hardware in its Surface Pro 3 slab-top; N-trig’s advances in touchscreen development allowed it to remove a superfluous layer from the original specs of the device’s screen, reducing the weight of the device.

In January Microsoft announced what seems to be a corollary purchase to N-trig, the acquisition of text-recognition development company Equivio. The objective, based on these investments, appears to be to finally bring handwriting recognition into the 21st century, and, one can only guess, to take it effectively into the multi-language arena. At the very least the two purchases seem to indicate an interest in deciphering the marks that people make, either textual or pictorial (or both, if you’re heading further east).

2014 was full of luddite acclaim for the return of the world’s oldest recording tool to the digital arena after a chequered history in the late nineties and early noughties, with devices such as the Palm Pilot failing to convince, and paving the way for Apple to eradicate scribbling with a new devotion to gesture and touch in its iPhone range. Though Apple has patented ‘iPen’, there’s no evidence to date that the $700bn-value tech leader is convinced yet that the pen is mightier than the swipe.

Referring to Apple, Leibovitz said “Remember, this is the company that declared pen dead.” – but added shortly after that Apple would also be most welcome as a customer. Guess that window of opportunity just closed.

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