Microsoft patents Surface Pen with touch control that could replace your mouse

Microsoft recently filed a patent for a stylus with a touch-sensitive retention clip, which could bring further gesture control.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • A patent filing by Microsoft reveals plans for a Surface Pen with a touch-sensitive retention clip. The clip will also enable a power-saving mode that could extend the battery life of the stylus.
  • Patent applications are not an indicator of a product coming to market, so Microsoft Surface users are cautioned not to get too excited.

A patent application recently filed by Microsoft is creating buzz around the next generation of its Surface Pen stylus products.

The patent, titled Stylus With Touch-Sensitive Retention Clip, details that the next Surface Pen to come out of Redmond may have a yellow retention clip that doubles as a scroll wheel-like touchpad.

Microsoft's Surface hybrid tablet line has become popular with graphic artists, designers, and other creative professionals, much in the same way that Apple products were dominant a decade ago.

The latest change on the docket for Microsoft's stylus adds a feature lacking in the Apple Pencil, upping the competition between the Surface line and Apple's iPad Pro, though Apple has its own ideas for expanding the Apple Pencil's usability.

Why a touchpad retention clip?

In the patent filing, Microsoft argues that using a stylus to scroll through a page can be cumbersome and inaccurate, which may lead users to either need a mouse with a scroll wheel to augment stylus input, or suffer through decreased productivity.

"By providing a touch-sensitive retention clip on the stylus, the stylus is able to provide scrolling, zooming, and/or other computing functionality in a manner that is similar to a scroll wheel of a mouse device," Microsoft said in the filing. "As such, a user may forgo using a mouse device in favor of the stylus when interacting with a computer."

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Don't worry about the retention clip being bulky, either: Microsoft mentions in the patent that the clip will retain the familiar U-shape that older versions of the Surface Pen had before the clip was removed in the latest version.

The patent filing also mentions that the retention clip will be used to wake the Pen from low-power mode, another new feature suggested by the document.

The Surface Pen would suspend itself to save battery power, only waking when it detects an intentional touch gesture, such as sliding down the length of the clip or performing another movement.

However, patent filings are not indicative of upcoming release, or even a plan to actually create a product, so don't hold your breath waiting for this Surface Pen update to come out.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google patent products based on nothing more than ideas, if for no other reason than to keep competitors from beating them to market once the technology for a product becomes realistic.

A Surface Pen with a touch-sensitive retention clip is far more in the realm of possibility than Apple's smart bike, for example, so there is slightly more reason to be hopeful for it.

Also see

Image: USPTO/Microsoft

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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