Slides from the recent Microsoft WinHEC conference reveal tantalizing new details of Wacom's forthcoming dual protocol pen due out in fourth quarter of 2016.
The next generation G13 pen from Wacom will support both Active ES and Microsoft Pen protocols. According to slides presented by Wacom's Sr. Vice President, Technology Solutions Business Unit Nobutaka Ide, the new pen will support:
- High performance simultaneous Pen & Touch (240Hz Pen, 120Hz Touch)
- 4096 level pen pressure, and
- Tilt detection
These capabilities far outshine both current Microsoft (formerly N-Trig) and Wacom AES pens, which offer 1024 and 2048 pressure levels respectively and do not support tilt. By polling at 240Hz, the new pen should have comparable accuracy and latency to Apple's Pencil.
Because the slides were released without accompanying speaker's notes, some interpretation is required. The next slide seems to indicate that this "Dual Protocol Pen" is part of Wacom's vision for a Universal Pen Framework (UPF) and part of a Digital Stationery Consortium (DSC).
The Wacom slides were part of a larger presentation regarding the significance of Windows Ink to the Microsoft platform presented by David Abzarian, Principal Program Manager.
Highlights of the presentation included a slide touting the explosion of pen-enabled Windows devices, which doubled in 2015 and are projected to reach about 20 million in 2017. Over 50% of all pen enabled devices are running Windows 10 and pen-attached devices generally have higher satisfaction ratings vs. non-pen devices.
The forthcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update will feature several advances that Microsoft hopes will make ink a "compelling experience out of the box," including Edge annotations and the Ink Workspace, which I reviewed in March.
For developers, Microsoft highlighted low latency delivered by DirectInk and new XAML features that enable an Ink Canvas and Ink Toolbar (including ruler) with only one line of code each. OneNote, Office and a variety of Windows Store apps that have already incorporated the new features were reviewed.
One of the areas that Microsoft is emphasizing is the availability of simultaneous pen and touch. Low level APIs that support Pen + Touch Simultaneous Input are now on by default. The presentation also covered how Windows supplements device palm rejection, but it is unclear what improvements have been made in that area. (Merely distinguishing between pen and touch input and ignoring the latter when inking is a major step forward in my opinion).
With a new Microsoft Pen HLK (Hardware Lab Kit), the company is starting the Microsoft Pen Program which will allow other manufacturers to offer their own pens with Windows Ink compatibility. All devices and pens that "speak the Microsoft Pen protocol" should work together.
At present, it appears that Wacom, Sunwoda and APS Technologies have signed on to become Microsoft Pen Suppliers, with Wacom offering its afore-mentioned Dual Protocol Pen. There is also an extensive set of manufacturers signed on to offer Microsoft Pen compatible touch controllers, led by Elan, Synaptics, Goodix, EETI, SIS and Atmel.
This should mean that worrying about pen compatibility and support should become a thing of the past; however, it remains to be seen whether any of these advances are backwards compatible.
In the case of Wacom's first and second generation AES pens (G11/G12), it appears that "pen & touch simultaneous function" will be enabled by a future firmware update.