According to a newly published application, Microsoft has patented an OLED touch bar panel for integration with its Surface Pen accessory for the Surface and Surface Pro 2-in-1 devices. The specification, which was originally filed in 2017, released for public consumption by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office late last week, and first picked up by Windows Latest, includes a mock-up rendering depicting a Surface Pen with a long, thin touch panel displaying three different “screen” layouts. This is meant to showcase the accessory’s ability to adaptively cycle through settings options depending on the context of the open app or software.
While this new patent rendering bears obvious similarities to the Touch Bar on Apple’s newer line of MacBook Pros, its inclusion as part of a creative accessory such as the Surface Pen makes for a logical next step, and fertile ground for innovative applications. The biggest possible game-changer would likely stem from avid Adobe Photoshop users being able to change brushes without having to break their current stroke, or try to keep it steady while they switch styles using their other hand. This kind of added efficiency would also ostensibly extend to other visual editing and drawing applications, or with other software that the Pen can pair with for precision control (like audio or video editing).
This isn’t the first time Surface Pen patents have emerged, though, and when considered alongside these previous reports, the OLED touch bar could yield even more dramatic strides in functionality. For instance, a dynamic row of buttons would prove practical for the supposed presentation remote feature that Microsoft is contemplating. An OLED display could also easily provide a scroll wheel, as previous patent whisperings have suggested. In fact, a scroll control could be a practical default option on the Pen’s touch bar if the open application isn’t optimized to give the Pen contextual cues.
A touch bar would also pose an elegant solution for the much-requested ability to erase with the Pen. Instead of requiring the user to turn the device over, breaking their workflow, the OLED touch panel could allow them to hold or toggle an eraser and then simply “draw” over what they wanted to erase in the default tip-t0-screen orientation.
While there has not been any explicit confirmation of when a new Surface Pen would debut, or what hardware it would include, Microsoft would be wise to unveil it alongside the Surface Pro 7, which could come as early as October. Until then, we can only speculate.
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