Microsoft loves Surface pen maker N-trig so much it bought it – report

So much for pulling out of the tablet biz

Microsoft has reportedly gobbled up N-trig, makers of digital pen technology for PCs and tablets, for an undisclosed sum.

The sale of the Kfar Saba, Israel–based firm was reported by the Israeli business daily Globes, citing sources who valued the deal at around $200m.

N-trig makes the pen tech for Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 fondleslab. Previous generations of the Surface line, on the other hand, all used technology from rival Wacom.

The Surface Pro 3's pen lacks the pressure sensitivity of the Wacom tech, with just 256 levels of sensitivity compared to the Surface Pro 2's 1,024 levels. But unlike the Wacom system, N-trig's technology combines pen and touch sensitivity into a single sensor layer, which helped Microsoft make the Surface Pro 3 thinner and lighter than its predecessor.

N-trig has struggled to compete with the better-known Wacom, however. According to Globes, sales to Microsoft have lately accounted for some 79 per cent of its revenue, and it has had trouble paying off its creditors.

Among those investors has been Microsoft, which put $29m into the firm back in 2009.

Last year, N-trig attempted to float an IPO on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, but it canceled its plans when it failed to achieve the $75m valuation it was hoping for. At the time, auditors warned that its financial straits "arouse significant doubt about the company's existence as a going concern."

Being brought under Microsoft's wing should give the 170-employee firm the capital it needs to continue for the foreseeable future.

More importantly, though, the purchase shows Microsoft yet again upping the ante in its bid to make a serious run at the tablet and hybrid PC markets, at a time when many Redmond-watchers have expressed doubts about the future of the Surface product line.

Microsoft is widely expected to release a Surface Pro 4 this year – if for no other reason than that Intel's new, power-sipping Broadwell chips are largely socket- and chipset-compatible with the Haswell processors in the Surface Pro 3 – but the next steps for Redmond's hardware division are unknown.

When asked for confirmation of the N-trig deal, Microsoft told El Reg, "We have nothing to share." ®

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