If you own a Galaxy Note or Surface Pro, then you probably already know how useful a stylus can be. Much more than a faux finger, a digital pen can give you a sense of precision and control that your meathooks just can't replicate. But based on the work going on in Microsoft Research, the stylus still isn't close to reaching its full potential.
Microsoft researchers have put together an impressive demonstration of what just might be the next step for tablets as content creation devices. Going beyond today's pressure-sensitive writing and pointing tools, this next-generation of stylus can sense the way you're holding it (as well as the tablet you're writing on) and respond accordingly.
The key is grip sensitivity. Today's palm rejection is based on the pen's proximity: hold the pen tip near the screen, and it rejects non-pen touches. Hold it away from the screen, and it allows non-pen touches.
Microsoft's new grip-sensor prototypes, though, base their palm rejection on the way that you're gripping the pen. So you can still hold the pen in a writing stance and bump your palm on the display without registering it as a touch. But then, with the pen still near the screen (and your palm still taking a siesta on the Gorilla Glass), you can also reach over with your other hand to pinch and zoom.
It's smarter about registering touch where you want it, and rejecting it where you don't.
This could also open new doors that aren't available on today's tablets. Microsoft's demo shows us one example (above) of a multi-handed approach to tablet art: use your hand to move the target area of a virtual airbrush, while your pen hand tilts the angle of the spray.
Microsoft is also throwing tablet grip sensing into the mix. So the pen/tablet combo can sense not only whether you're holding the pen in a writing stance, but also which hand you're holding the tablet in (to pop up a contextual menu on the appropriate side). It can even sense if you hand the device off to someone else, and automatically hide your private information from that Nosy Nancy.
It all gives the tablet more real-time context to respond to. If we're moving towards a future of tech products that can predict the best way to respond to you in the moment, then it looks like this research could be a big step in that direction.
Given the crude, jerry-rigged appearance of Microsoft's demo units, we wouldn't bet on this showing up in the Surface Pro 4. But, even if it's still a few years away from consumer adoption, it could give Microsoft's hybrid devices (and other pen/tablet pairings) more of a reason for existing.
For more detail, be sure to hit up Microsoft's demo video below.