A recent post by Jack Purcher at Patently Apple discussed a new Apple patent covering a large group collaboration system, which includes the use of a special electronic pen. It appears to be Apple's answer to Microsoft's PixelSense collaboration solution.
The system includes various input devices, a collaboration server that handles the various users and input systems, and a new input menu system. The system may work with various display devices, such as white boards or horizontal tabletop surfaces.
Some members of the group may use an electronic pen, which can store content and stream it to the collaboration server.
Alternatively, the electronic pen may stream the information to a computer or other handheld electronic device associated with the pen user which may process the data and/or relay the data to the collaboration server. The collaboration server interprets the pen strokes from the electronic pen and provides an updated output to the other participants participating in the collaboration session by causing the updated content to appear on a large digital surface physically present with the other participants in the collaboration center.
For example, if the electronic pen user draws an image, the image may be shown to the other participants on the large digital surface in the collaboration center. Alternatively, if the pen user invoked a function such as voted on an item, the pen user's input will be provided to the other participants to show an updated collaboration view.
The system also supports a new menu system with point-and-click regions, icons for program functions and dynamic sub-menus.
Specifically, the new menu system may be used with a variety of different software programs, and the particular functions supported by the icons would change depending on the functions available in the program. Use of the gesture area would similarly be expected to be correlated with the application so that different gestures may be used differently to interact with different applications in use via the large digital surface.
This will put Apple in direct competition with Microsoft's collaboration solution now called PixelSense, previously Surface. This isn't the Surface tablet technology, rather a tabletop system where users can walk around and interact with the data with hand and finger gestures.
A few years ago with the release of the iPad, I noted that the then-Surface technology was being superseded by the widely-available and inexpensive iPad. The tablet let a couple of users work together on a project and easily share information.
However, PixelSense does allow more than a couple of persons to collaborate easily. When it comes to larger collaboration groups, PixelSense has the iPad beat. Or until Apple releases this collaboration server solution.
It appears to me that Apple's solution will leverage existing display technologies, whether white board, projector or HDTV, and support a number of input methods, including the electronic pen. The Apple solution supports remote attendees and doesn't force the collaborating team to be in a specific location. Sounds nice.
Good luck, PixelSense.