Microsoft to buy multi-touch display pioneer Perceptive Pixel for Windows 8 integration

Apple made popular the use of touchscreen technology, but Jeff Han produced large multi-touch displays long before the iPhone’s mid-2007 launch. Now, Microsoft announced it would buy the company he founded.

According to a press release, Perceptive Pixel’s multi-touch tech, which is capable of detecting up to 100 touch events or 10 simultaneous users simultaneously, first gained recognition in 2008—despite its founding over two years earlier:

In 2008 its technology gained widespread recognition for transforming the way CNN and other broadcasters covered the 2008 U.S. presidential election. In 2009 the Smithsonian awarded the company the National Design Award in the inaugural category of Interaction Design. PPI’s patented technologies are used across a wide variety of industries such as government, defense, broadcast, energy exploration, engineering and higher education, and its expertise in both software and hardware will contribute to success in broad scenarios such as collaboration, meetings and presentations.

Han’s technology is often brought up as “prior art” in the context of Apple’s multi-touch patents. However, as Han said above, the technology has its roots in the 80s and what you do with technology is the thing that counts.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Perceptive Pixel’s 82-inch screens retail at about $80,000 each, according to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer at a conference in Toronto today, and they are able to run Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft even demonstrated the duo at an event in February (video above).

“It’s just a very big Windows 8 tablet, but people ‘Ooh and ah’ at it,” Ballmer explained at the conference, on the acquisition. “Our challenge is to make that technology more affordable.”

Microsoft Office Division President Kurt DelBene revealed the acquisition will allow the Redmond, Wash.-based Company to “draw on our complementary strengths.” The large touch displays, when coupled with hardware from Microsoft’s OEMs, will become “powerful Windows 8-based PCs and open new possibilities for productivity and collaboration,” he said.

Reuters further reported that Microsoft expects the acquisition to close this summer, and the firm hopes to cut the cost of Perceptive Pixel products, but the deal is still subject to closing conditions and regulatory approval.

“We want to make this mainstream,” said Microsoft General Manager Giovanni Mezgec. “We will do anything possible to get the cost down and to get new forms of this out in the market places in any way possible.”

Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8, which is the long-awaited upgrade to the Windows ecosystem following the successful Windows 7 release that put it back on track after the Vista debacle. The company went with a single Windows version that supports various form factors, and it includes the Metro user-interface with tiles, while still running old Windows programs on a desktop. It also touts new, touch-optimized apps written with Web technologies. Microsoft’s strategy directly contrasts with Apple, which boasts two separate desktop and mobile operating systems based on the same core features.

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