The red TrackPoint ball was a staple of IBM’s ThinkPads for many years. While it disappeared for a time following Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s computing business, it returned due to high enterprise demand. Now Microsoft is looking to upgrade the much-loved trackpointer with a new twist.
The US Patent and Trademark Office published details of a patent application for such a device last week, and it appears from the application that Microsoft intends to add the feature to future Surface Books. Given that the company wants to make its high-end laptops a staple in enterprise environments, developing its own new version of the classic trackpointer may prove helpful.
We should mention that the idea behind TrackPoint itself was Microsoft’s first, but it never ended up pursuing the technology on its own. IBM picked it up for use in its ThinkPad laptops in the 1990s, and the rest is history.
The new TrackPoint is much like those of yesteryear. The malleable gel ball can be pushed around to move the cursor around the screen, and pressed down to simulate a mouse or trackpad click. Advancements in technology over the past 20 years will enable it to do much more, though.
The patent says the sensor surface underneath the gel pointing device is able to determine levels of force to allow Force Touch-like gesture capabilities. It also includes sensors within the gel to detect fingerprints, allowing it to be used as an authentication device as well.
The patent lists the application date as December 2015, meaning that Microsoft may already be in the process of developing the TrackPoint technology for inclusion in a future Surface Book. This said, patent applications can precede actual application by many years, so there’s no saying when we might actually see the technology developed in use.
Microsoft has so far not commented on the application, only adding to the mystery of where this is headed. That said, in all likelihood the company does at least want to start the process and make sure that no one — not even Lenovo — beats them to the punch.