Is a “color sensing tip” and display coming to the Surface Pen?

Mark Coppock


Microsoft has been making some solid improvements with the Surface Pen, most notably upgrading the active stylus for the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book with additional levels of pressure sensitivity and an improved eraser tip. A recent patent filing indicated that Microsoft is, at least, looking at a new rechargeable version of the Surface Pen, making up for the current version’s inconvenient replaceable battery. Today, a patent application was published indicating that Microsoft continues to cook up new ideas for how to make the best Surface Pen.

Via Twitter user WalkingCat, Patent application #20160048221A1 describes a “digital stylus” with a color sensing tip that can identify a color and the context within which it’s being used and communicate that information wirelessly to a computing device. As the patent’s drawings confirm, this capability would be helpful in identifying an object’s color and then utilize that information in, for example, a drawing application.

Surface Pen Patent Color Sensing Tip Sensing
First, the pen can be used to capture an object’s color.

Surface Pen Patent Color Sensing Tip Drawing
Then, the color information can be communicated to a computing device and application.

The patent goes into copious detail on what types of technologies could be used to sense color and the types of devices that could be paired with such a pen. Other improvements are also hinted at, such as the use of accelerometers to detect tip movement and position, gyros to sense “twisting” of the tip, and microphones to utilize audio signals conveying texture.

One other particularly interesting drawing shows the pen’s various details, including the use of a variety of new sensors including UV filter and photosensor. A display is indicated, which could be used for any number of interesting applications.

Surface Pen Patent Details Display
Some of the details indicated in Microsoft’s pen patent.

While companies like Microsoft generate hundreds or thousands of patents that never result in actual products, many indicate at least the directions that these companies are looking at in planning future products. Clearly, Microsoft is committed to improving the Surface line, and this patent for unique pen capabilities is just the latest in a long line of hints about where the company might go next.