There's no PixelSense about new Microsoft Surface tablets

Microsoft's new Windows 8 tablet misses out on a revolutionary touch technology

Microsoft Surface tablet

The Surface name has had a complicated history at Microsoft. What used to refer to a multi-user, multi-touch table-top display (with an integrated PC and bespoke collaboration software) is now a much, much smaller 10.6-inch tablet running Windows 8.

The original Surface table was a 30-inch rear-projection display, a full 21 inches thick using five infrared cameras to track users' inputs. It could track 52 inputs at once, distingushing between fingers, blobs (any larger object) and tags (using unique Surface dot-barcodes). It ran the then-darling Windows Vista on an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 160GB HDD.

In December 2011, Microsoft started shipping its Surface 2.0 multi-touch tables in partnership with Samsung. The now-40-inch LCD was much, much thinner, using a Full HD 1080p panel. The CPU was an AMD Athlon II, and RAM and hard drive space doubled. A customised, 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional for Embedded Devices made its debut.

New software and computing features aside, the most important feature of Surface 2.0 was PixelSense, otherwise known as 'Optical Sensor In Pixel'. PixelSense was a novel technology that sandwiched an optical sensor in along with each pixel of liquid crystal silicon, allowing the Surface 2.0 tables to pick up 50 simultaneous inputs with near-perfect accuracy.

PixelSense technology is far more versatile than the capacitive touchsceens that are ubiquitous in computing devices like mobile phones, tablets and all-in-one PCs. Since it doesn't rely on the capacitance of a user's finger or stylus, it can track input from anything — a soft-bristled paintbrush, for example, or a scrap of paper. The 50 simultaneous inputs mean theoretically perfect input with a bristled object, on a perfect per-pixel level.

Microsoft Surface PixelSense

Unfortunately, the transition from Surface table to Surface tablet hasn't brought PixelSense with it. By all accounts, the new Surface tablet uses a traditional multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, and the stylus for the Pro tablet uses a second digitiser.

Capacitive multi-touch is generally restricted to a comparatively dismal maximum of ten simultaneous inputs, but most applications further restrict themselves to two — this opens up pinch-to-zoom, drag, rotate and swipe options. Apple is unique in offering a small range of four- and five-finger gestures to close apps and navigate on the iPad.

A cached copy of Microsoft's 'The Power Of PixelSense' web page, retrieved 11 June, shows off the PixelSense technology. It looks great. The video shows a huge range of possibilities for massively-multi-touch collaborative input. But the page isn't there any more — it's gone, along with any other reference to PixelSense on Microsoft's website. The MSDN Surface blog is gone too. Instead, the Surface website is all about the new tablet.

Microsoft Surface tablet

A few assets linger on the old Surface website, hidden from view — mostly technical drawings and promotional images. Some references still appear in Google's search listings. But the table previously known as Surface has a new home: PixelSense.com. It's now officially called Microsoft PixelSense, and the partnership with Samsung seems stronger than ever. PixelSense tables are shipping worldwide, and Microsoft lists thirty one partners with expertise in developing applications for industries as diverse as government, retail, education and healthcare.

The re-branding seems to have been a clean break. What was once Surface is now PixelSense, and what is now Surface has no PixelSense. Any consumer just learning now about the exciting new Surface tablet hopefully isn't going to be confused as to why there's also a 40-inch model available for $10,000.

The new Microsoft Surface tablet does look great — it's likely to take a large chunk of market share from the burgeoning Ultrabook category, to the chagrin of laptop manufacturers worldwide. It's not a PixelSense Surface tablet, though — that would have made it very, very special indeed.

Further reading: The battle for multi-touch

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

Good Gear Guide
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?