This week the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Microsoft that reveals a next generation Surface Pen that includes an all-new Surface Ring Button that will provide users with new multitasking functionalities. In addition, Microsoft illustrates bringing a Ring styled button to a future generation Surface tablet wherein a portion of the rotary-style button is exposed while the other portion is hidden within the bezel of the tablet.
The Pen's Multitasking End and Ring Buttons
In Microsoft's patent FIG.1 presented below we're able to see a Surface Pen with end button #116 that is configured to communicate with a Surface Tablet and activate at least one programmable function of the Surface Pen #100. The end button may be configured to power Surface Pen on or off, open an application on the Surface Tablet, switch or toggle between open applications, select or highlight text, delete text, copy or paste content. Microsoft's Pen could do some of this today, though it sounds like their extending functionality.
What's really new is the addition of an all-new Ring Button that is seen in FIG. 1 towards the tip of the pen. This button could be programmed to multitask / perform a series of different tasks in a defined order. In other words, in certain circumstances, a first activation of the end button may perform a first task, and a second activation of the end button may perform a second, different task. For example, the end button may be activated a first time to copy selected text or content displayed on the touchscreen. The end button may be activated a second time to paste the copied text/content at an identified location. I think that this could be a great advancement for the Surface Pen and an idea that competing OEMs might be tempted to license (or steal).
In Microsoft's patent FIGS. 2 and 3 below we're able to see alternative designs for the ring button. In FIG. 2 we can see that the ring is segmented into a least three segments noted as 204a, 204b and 204c. Such a device may provide an improved design or ease of use over a similar device having a single ring button. Instead of pushing the single ring multiple times to perform different tasks, the user would have a task assigned to each button.
Surface Tablet with new Ring Button Control
Microsoft's patent FIG. 4 depicts a non-limiting example of a possible future version of Surface Tablet with an all-new ring button #404. The new ring button could extend to other future Microsoft devices such as a smartphone, gaming device or controller, wearable device and so on,
The ring button in FIG. 4 illustrates that it's only partially extending from an edge of the Surface Tablet. The exposed area #406 of the ring button is accessible to a user. An embedded area #408 of the ring button is secured internally within the Surface Tablet (as depicted in a semi-circular dashed line).
The ring button is configured primarily as a wheel to rotate about an axis, though could also be pushed in to activate a feature or programmable functions. Although I haven't seen this in action, the button might act like an iPod scroll wheel of sorts that would pull up menus and option quickly.
While not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, the new features for the Surface Tablet and Pen could represent solid evolutionary additions that could assist users in the future to be more productive.
Microsoft filed their patent application back in Q3 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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