Microsoft’s acquisition of large-format touch leader Perceptive Pixel shows it is serious about the touch space
Since the hurried launch of software major Microsoft’s tablet computers, Surface, bigwigs at the firm have, directly and indirectly, made the case for a comeback of sorts for the company into the technology innovation space; something it has not been seen doing in recent years when companies such as Apple and Google have clearly overtaken the Redmond-based software firm.
Quite a buzz
Surface created quite a buzz with its launch, not only because of the individual tech specs of the two tablets unveiled, but also because this is the software major’s first foray into the hardware space (barring its hugely popular gaming devices Xbox and Kinect, that is).
Manufactured in-house, the Surface also challenges OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) such as HP, Dell or IBM by entering hitherto unchartered territory, a fact that the company is going to great lengths to downplay in order to keep its OEM partners happy in the long run. (It is rumoured that one of the OEMs dropped plans to bundle its device with the Windows operating system, which is somewhat the bread-and-butter for Microsoft.)
That it meant to take on Apple’s iPad, which has a solid head-start in the segment, was a thinly-veiled fact what with Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer announcing that the company believed in a “PC-plus era”, compared to Apple’s oft-repeated slogan that it is the computing choice of consumers in the “post-PC era”. The jury’s still out on whether Microsoft’s first foray into the hardware personal computing space deserves to be bestowed the cliched title of an ‘iPad killer’. Cliches apart, there’s enough reported evidence, through a series of interviews, that the one product line Microsoft’s envious of and keen to out-compete is that of its arch rival Apple.
Whether we’re living in the post-PC era or not, the fact is that PC sales have been on the decline.
The latest Gartner report found that in the second quarter of 2012 (ended June), the worldwide PC market saw its seventh consecutive quarter of flat to single-digit growth. This quarter, PC shipments registered a decline of 0.1 per cent from the same quarter in 2011. It is this that perhaps drives Microsoft into the mobile computing segment.
It is also noteworthy that Microsoft plans to deploy its Metro Interface across product lines in the mobile, tablet and desktop ecosystems, unlike Apple and Google that have separate operating systems for both segments.
That Microsoft has its eyes set on touch technologies to regain its foothold in the tech industry is obvious. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Perceptive Pixel, a leading technology company in the field of multi-touch and large-scale display solutions. With this acquisition, Microsoft — which is already in the large-screen tech segment with PixelSense (the original Surface unveiled by Microsoft in 2007) — hopes to strengthen its presence in the large-screen touch segment by building this tech into its new soon-to-be-unveiled operating system, Windows 8. Perhaps, tech watchers speculate, this will even speed the introduction of touch technologies into consumer tech or the home PC.
Low on details
The devil, as they say, lies in the details. However, very little has been revealed so far by Microsoft; even at its somewhat hurried launch last month, the only detail that it let out of the bag was that it will only be Wi-Fi-enabled (a plus by no means).
Since the event, tech enthusiasts, even those who aren’t fans of Microsoft or its licences, are awaiting specs of these gadgets. Will it beat the iPad at resolution, something that Apple has over the years perfected to a fault?
Others wonder if indeed Microsoft can lower the price of its gadget — reportedly targeted at the consumer segment — so much that those shying away from tablets due to the cost factor will turn to it to be connected. Will its price point lie somewhere between Apple’s extremely pricey iPad and Kindle Fire (running on Android), which sells at the low end of the price spectrum?
What we know thus far is this: It has a 10.6 inches, 16:9 widescreen HD display and comes with two processor options — either Nvidia or Intel chips — and weighs less than 1 kg. The tablet operates on the upcoming version of the Windows operating system, Windows 8, along with a host of other hardware features such as dual cameras, USB and SD-Card ports and magnesium-coated covers.
The few innovations it promises are on the input side. Apart from the standard touch-screen interface, the cover of the tablet doubles as a keyboard when it is opened out and one of the models also offers a stylus, thus completing the set of touch input options.
The tablet also provides a flap on the back so as to provide support to the device screen when used as a laptop. One of the things pointed out is that typed input through a keyboard is far more efficient than through a glass screen. This combination of features somehow manages to bring together a curious fusion of the diverse computing technologies that are around and, perhaps, indicates the onset of touch-computing in personal computers.