Apple might have just launched its new MacBook Pro 2016 series with a Touchscreen OLED panel called the Touch Bar, but Microsoft was also working on a very similar concept since 1999. However, the project was finally folded in 2009. Microsoft’s Steven Bathiche, who is Director Research at the company’s Applied Sciences Group, recently tweeted out a link explaining how they were working on something similar.
Bathiche wrote on Twitter, “Something worth checking out, worked on this a while back. Especially, given recent tech news,” with a link to the paper highlighting the timeline of how Microsoft’s product would had evolved. When The Verge’s Tom Warren asked Bathiche why they never made into a product, Bathiche wrote back, “We did not build computers back then, and when we did start, we made computers with touch screens.”
If you look at Microsoft’s paper highlighting their touchscreen, the idea was first conceptualised in 1999. The main idea was a keyboard “that displays the active action keys and hides the irrelevant keys for a given application, application mode, and application state.” Sounds pretty similar to how Apple’s TouchBar is designed, which only shows the functions based on a particular application.
Check out Bathiche’s tweet below:
— Steven Bathiche (@sbathiche) October 29, 2016
In 2000, Microsoft came up with a “layered electroluminescent display” which had “pre-printed legends,” on top of the keyboard. These legends would change depending on the application a user had open. By 2007, Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group was exploding a more richer interactive UI with a camera and projector being placed right about the workspace. These would recognise the physical keyboard, and then “project adaptable legends onto the keyboard depending upon the context.”
By 2009, Microsoft also had a “prototype of touch-sensitive display strip at the top with the display continuing underneath the keys.” Based on the YouTube video, it looks like a very early version of the current TouchBar.
Microsoft might not have launched the Touchbar eventually, but its has created new ways of interacting with the display of a desktop in the new Surface Studio. The Surface Dial is also a new tool for interacting with the display, especially for artists and designers and will work on the new SurfaceBook as well.