With a big N-trig investment, Microsoft is racing Apple to multi-touch

The keyboard has been around since the 19th century. The mouse is 40 years old. Yet we still use both as our main points of interaction with computers, even as their technology grows by leaps and bounds each year. But a new $24 million investment, led by none other than Microsoft, in Israeli startup N-trig, points to a different future for input mechanisms.

N-trig already provides a range of touchscreen technology to companies like Dell and HP, but the key component — and what Microsoft is most interested in — is multi-touch. Multi-touch is a term used for touchscreens that can recognize multiple contact points at once on the same screen. Specifically, N-trig specializes in combining pen and capacitive touch on the same screen.

If you’ve heard the term before it’s most likely due to the meteoric popularity of Apple’s iPhone, which features a multi-touch screen. Ever since Apple launched the device, there’s been talk that the company would roll out the technology to its other products, including its computers. So far, it’s only made it to the company’s MacBook trackpads, but rumors of an Apple tablet computer persist.

Yet it’s actually Microsoft that’s been taking the lead on multi-touch from a computing perspective. Its Surface computer adapts the technology to a large, tabletop display. These computers are already scattered throughout the United States in casinos and hotels.

More central to this investment in N-trig, Microsoft has included multi-touch support in its new Windows 7 operating system, just released to public beta a few days ago. This means that we should see a whole new generation of tablet-like PCs over the next few years. And eventually, multi-touch technology may even find its way to the desktop computing experience, using touchscreen keyboards and multi-touch mice (which Apple is working on).

Kfar Saba, Israel-based N-trig has plenty of money for its multi-touch research — it previously raised $28 million just under a year ago. It’s not clear how big Microsoft’s investment was in this latest round.


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