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Microsoft's New Ticket To Huge Touch Screens

Acquisition of CIA-backed Perceptive Pixel paves way for development of large touch screens, based on same technology CNN used in its Magic Wall.

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Microsoft on Monday said it has struck a deal to acquire Perceptive Pixel Inc., a CIA-backed manufacturer of enormous, interactive touch screens of the sort envisioned in the sci-fi thriller Minority Report. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Perceptive Pixel develops screens that are up to 82 inches in size and can handle multi-gesture touch input as well as input from a stylus. The company's screens also should be compatible with Microsoft's Kinect hands-free control technology when paired with a Kinect-compatible Windows PC.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the deal as he wrapped up a keynote speech at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. With a Steve Jobs-like promise of "one more thing," Ballmer revealed the acquisition.

"When you couple the PPI large touch and stylus display, with great PCs from our OEM partners, it really opens up new possibilities for business, for education, for productivity, for learning and collaboration," said Ballmer.

The catch: Perceptive Pixel's screens likely won't go mainstream unless Microsoft can get the price down to well below their current cost of about $80,000 per unit. "We've got a lot of work to do to bring the prices down," said Ballmer. "They have to be more accessible and more affordable."

[ Considering a Windows 8 ARM tablet? Here's what you need to know now: Windows 8 ARM Tablets: 8 Must-Know Facts. ]

New York-based PPI was founded in 2006 by touch interface pioneer Jefferson Han, a former researcher at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Backers include Intel, 3M, and In-Q-Tel, a venture company that was started by the Central Intelligence Agency to fund startups developing technologies with applications for defense and intelligence.

Also backing the company is CNN, which used PPI's screens as the foundation for its Magic Wall, used extensively during the network's coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign.

"I founded Perceptive Pixel a little over six years ago specifically with the mission to see how advanced technologies like multitouch, like stylus, like gesture can specifically benefit the knowledge worker, how these rich experiences can actually help us get real work done," said Han, speaking at the WPC conference.

PPI's impressive customer list includes the U.S. Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, Shell Oil, Nike, and almost every major television network.

Microsoft's deal to acquire PPI marks its second foray into the hardware business, an area it traditionally has left to partners, in just the past several weeks. Last month, the company announced plans to introduce its own, self-branded line of Windows 8 tablets called Surface.

The PPI acquisition could complement Microsoft's tablet plans, as PPI holds a number of patents related to touch interfaces. And Han, who becomes a Microsoft employee as part of the deal, is recognized as a leader in the field.

At WPC, Han demonstrated how Windows 8 could easily scale for clear, high-definition display on one of PPI's 82-inch screens. PPI's technology also can presumably scale down, and not just in size. "Moore's Law is going to make the price go down quite dramatically so they can become available in conference rooms, hopefully in classrooms, even some offices, on a much more broad-scale basis," said Ballmer.

Ballmer said he's running Windows 8 on a big-screen PPI display in his office in Redmond, Wash. "It's seriously unbelievable," he said. Microsoft's deal to acquire PPI remains subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions.

Room-based systems don't connect to desktops, new and old systems don't integrate, and almost nothing connects to Skype. Can't we do better? Also in the Videoconference Disconnect digital issue of InformationWeek: The cloud and mobility will transform videoconferencing. (Free with registration.)

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User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2012 | 6:19:20 AM
re: Microsoft's New Ticket To Huge Touch Screens
I bet they will name it the Surface! (wait.. they already used that for their tablet... but wait, they already used that name too before for their table-top touch computer... *head explodes*)
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 1:52:50 PM
re: Microsoft's New Ticket To Huge Touch Screens
Using that video game Kinect technology on the large screens is an awesome feature, along with multiple gesture touch, sounds like nothing but good stuff to me. The only down sideGă¬$80,000, really? That is a high price ticket even on the commercial level of business. I think that that based upon the success with the Kinect and how everything will be touch screen in the near future, they should offer a model for a cost that is affordable and units will move! Not to mention all the major players they have backing this product.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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