Patent: Apple's answer to Microsoft's touchscreen PixelSense (formerly Surface)?

Patent: Apple's answer to Microsoft's touchscreen PixelSense (formerly Surface)?

Summary: Apple recently received a patent for a new collaboration system, including a collaboration server, a special interface and even pen input. Apple iPen? It appears ready to go up against Microsoft's PixelSense tabletop collaboration solution.


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.

Topics: Apple, Collaboration, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Imitation not innovation

    Apple became a "me too" company.
    Tim Acheson
    • good for you

      good for you if this makes you feel happy about ms... yeah, you guys need this in this difficult time.
      • Is it the other way round?

        I m sure ir doesn't make Tim feel good, but his comment has a grain if truth.
    • There's a big difference between imitation...

      .. and doing it properly.

      If Microsoft understood this at all, they wouldn't be in the mess they are now.
      • What mess?

        They are still the world's largest software company and are nowhere near going broke. They are making money hand over fist but you iSheep keep talking like they are about to fall off the face of the earth. LoL
        • Re: the world's largest software company

          Pipe dreams....
  • Do they have real plans for this?

    Or is this another me too project. Apple seems to have lost their way, they aren't supposed to be a me too company. They're supposed to be the trend setters, not necessarily using new technology, but utilizing it in new and very user friendly ways. From what I see here it's very surface (the original large scale version) like.
    Sam Wagner
    • Re: Do they have real plans for this?

      What was the point you were trying to make?

      What Apple patented has nothing to do with PixelSense and is (as always) much more usable. Whether there will be an actual product remains to be seen -- but Apple patenting it indicates they have a working prototype in their labs and do not want someone else to steal it.
      • Much more usable?

        Tell us, have you had hands on with this? Or, just like everyone else you're just making things up? Tell us, why if this patent application has nothing to do with PixelSense, then WHY did Mr. Morgenstern, a blogger for the ZDNet's Apple Core with over 20 years of covering the Mac markets, refer to it as "Apple's answer to Microsoft's touchscreen PixelSense"? Strange, wouldn't you say?
        No, I really don't expect you to answer...I do, however, expect you and countless others to flag this post! THAT much I am certain of.
  • I think I've figured something out

    Apple engoineers must have watched too many reruns of "Back to the Future", and the iWatch is actually a flux-capacitor time machine! As with everything else, miniturization has resulted in smaller and smaller devices, and also inthe speed required to reach threshold. The iWatch can reach that speed simply by waving your arms at the proper speed, and depending on which direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise, the wearer will be transported in time! So, the engineers, as well as Apple leagal team, have traveled back in time to the late 1980s, and are filing patents on "a new menu system with point-and-click regions, icons for program functions and dynamic sub-menus" ala Windows 3.X. In this manner, they may finally be able to prove that Win3X "stole" the Mac GUI!
    Of course, these patents may not apply in New Zealand...
    • Darn...spelling!

      I messed that up...see, I am human afterall! "engoineers"??? engineers! "leagal"?? legal!
      Maybe I should look at one of those automatic spelling gizmos???
      Please excuse my humanity...
      • You should consider borrowing an Apple device to post with.

        They all have pretty fool-proof spell checkers built-in.
        • Hehe...I'll pass for now...

          though that did make me chuckle! Reason to pass...ever read any of AK-H's articles?
          I'll just enable spell check in Opera if needed. As for AK-H...sometimes he does get the spelling correct, but it's the wrong words. So, while the spell check may be fool-proof, the grammar check needs work!
  • Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!

    We are in uncharted waters. Microsoft never had to fire a CEO before. Microsoft never lost money before. Microsoft never had competition before. We have Android and iOS. Now we can explore strange new worlds; seek out new life and new civilizations; we can now boldly go where no man has gone before. This will be a five year mission to explore new OSes. We can leave Microsoft behind. I have waited for this day my whole life... this day of reckoning.
    • Yep they fired him alright

      "Yeah, we're firing you... at some point in the next year. Take your time."

      Michael Alan Goff
    • Waited my whole life..

      Whoopdy-do! A whole twelve years, then?