Microsoft’s Surface tablets and its Surface Pen appealed to artists and creatives but it was lacking in one aspect that these class of people were used to. It left one hand, the non-pen hand, idle and practically useless. Microsoft addressed that with the Surface Dial, but it was yet another accessory that you could drop, break, or lose. Microsoft Researchers,however, have come up with ways to give that hand something to do, by allowing both pen and finger to be used as the same time, with the finger driving some special UI and actions at the side.
Technically, the hardware on Surface Pros are already capable of this. They are, after all, multi-touch devices. The software, however, blocks these from happening. For one, palm rejection, which kicks in when the pen is put to the screen, practically blocks all touch input. Secondly, most software, even drawing and painting apps, aren’t really set up to accept multiple points of input from different input types.
The Microsoft Research project, then, is about providing a usable interface for the thumb to use while the other hand is busy with the pen. Those interfaces differ from program to program, ranging from radial menus to sliders. Some of these interacions might be familiar to those who’ve watched Microsoft’s past concept videos, including the infamous Courier.
It would be totally great, especially for digital artists, if the next iteration of the Surface Pro had this functionality. Sadly, it’s not going to happen for a variety of reasons. First, it would render the Surface Dial moot. Second, it’s a research project that has little chance of being adopted widely, especially by third-party software. And perhaps more importantly, the Surface Pro 5 is now widely believed to be a small refresh, so something as radical as this will unlikely be present.