Microsoft's move to N-trig for their pen technology from old Wacom electro-magnetic static (EMR) was controversial, less because of the actual pen performance, but more because it now needs a battery. Up until the later half of last year, Wacom's battery-less digitizer still reigned supreme in the hassle-free department even compared to its own newer, cheaper Active Electro-Static (AES) pen tech, which still needs a battery.
The arrival of rechargeable AES pens from the likes of Lenovo, HP, and even proprietary tech from Apple, that advantage is no more; Microsoft, on the other hand, is still sticking to the removable battery path for their newest pen. Rechargeable pens are undoubtedly the future, however, and the crying of fans and users alike for a rechargeable, securely dock-able Surface Pen is loud and clear. And Microsoft seems to be making it happen, according to a new patent uncovered by Patently Mobile.
The patent details Microsoft's approach to a rechargeable pen solution. Interestingly, while competitors is copying Wacom's old approach with tiny slotted pens, Microsoft, at least according to the example provided in the patent, is opting to keep the size advantage of their pen. This is understandable, given how the Surface Pen is already one of the more comfortable styluses on the market, and Microsoft has gone at length to stress its pen-like look and feel as a plus point.
Technology enthusiasts with a penchant for engineering can go have a fun read at Patently Mobile about the patent, as they did a great job explaining at details how the solution would function, albeit with some jargon. There are three important things to take out however: the pen will be charged via fully exposed contacts; the pen will attach to the dock sideway via magnets; and the docking mechanism can be built into other devices.
The first point makes Microsoft's approach similar to Lenovo's and other Wacom AES solutions, instead of Apple's plug-n-charge method. The second and third point, on the other hand, present some interesting implication, since charging the pen is certainly another purpose the sides of current Surface designs can fulfill in addition to already holding the pen with magnets. Patently Mobile suggests the Surface Book's gaping hinge fold as another potential position for the dock; personally I find that less likely.
Another interesting detail in the mockup is the appearance of a Power on/off button (the round rectangular shape near the tip of the example pen). The Surface Pen up until the current generation has been pretty much always-on, or rather, the pen automatically becomes inactive after prolonged idle periods. Battery has also left little room for desire, with Microsoft claiming up to a year of usage, and user reports of the pen running out of juice early few and far between. The new power on/off button, then, is a strange addition, and while it may help extend the battery even more, whether it's really needed may be up for debate.
Whichever solution Microsoft will implement in the end, the fact that there's evidence of the company working on rechargeable pens is rather welcoming, and should serve to partly satiate customer demand. Keep in mind that this is only a patent application, and Microsoft may have something very different in store for the future. We will be keeping a close eye on the development from Microsoft, and will update you once more info comes.