A new patent awarded to Microsoft on Thursday, February 15, describes an updated Surface Pen packing a U-shaped touch-sensitive retention clip. Its main purpose is to emulate the scroll wheel found on all computer mice, allowing you to scroll up and down on pages, or zoom in and out of content. Simply roll your finger along the length of the clip to zoom and scroll accordingly.
“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,” the patent states. “As such, a user may forgo using a mouse device in favor of the stylus when interacting with a computer.”
In one design example, the touch-sensitive retention clip extends between the tip end and the eraser end and connects to the pen toward the eraser side. It consists of an interior conductive material that has a greater electrical conductivity than the clip’s exterior isolating material. This outer shell could consist of plastic, paint, or some other “electrically isolating” coating.
Microsoft’s patent shows the conductive material is at its thickness toward the top of the clip and grows thinner as it stretches down near the tip area. Meanwhile, the clip’s exterior material is the exact opposite: It’s thicker at the tip end and grows thinner as it stretches up toward the clip’s physical attachment to the pen itself.
The clip’s conductive material connects to a capacitive sensor located within the pen-based peripheral. This sensor measures the electrical changes stemming from touch: The largest change is toward the top while the smallest change resides at the bottom of the clip due to the thickness of the interior and exterior materials.
Meanwhile, in another design example, the interior conductive material doesn’t change thickness. The clip itself is still U-shaped, but the exterior material is thin at the tip end and grows thicker as it travels up the clip to the eraser end. Thus, its thickest point resides where the clip physically connects to the pen, but the overall scrolling/zooming function remains the same.
“Because the finger is closer to the internal conductive material at the tip end, the finger draws more current and correspondingly increases the measured capacitance,” the patent explains. “In this manner, variable touch input information may be provided based on a position of a finger along the length of the touch-sensitive retention clip.”
The current Surface Pen is available in platinum, black, burgundy, cobalt blue, and aqua blue colors for $100 each. It connects to Windows 10 devices via Bluetooth 4.0 and relies on a super-small AAAA battery. The peripheral consists of a single barrel button and a tail eraser button whereas Microsoft’s patent illustrates two barrel buttons along with the tail eraser. The two barrel buttons replace the left- and right-click buttons on a mouse.
Ultimately, Microsoft wants you to illuminate the mouse on Windows 10 devices supporting the Surface Pen. When this design becomes a real product is anyone’s guess.