Microsoft is set to buy Israeli digital pen-technology company N-trig for some $200 million, reports said Thursday. Neither Microsoft nor N-trig would confirm or deny the reports.
Microsoft already owns 6.1% of N-trig, but the acquisition would make it a full owner of the company, which has 180 employees, mostly in Israel and in Taiwan. According to the reports, the company’s Kfar Saba offices will become a Microsoft research and development center.
N-trig specializes in “pen tech”, which enables users to interact with devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. Pen technology dates back to the pre-Internet days of personal information devices like the Palm Pilot, which featured a touch screen that required users to interface with the screen via a stylus, a plastic or rubber-tipped pen-shaped device. The technology remained popular for years, up until Apple came out with the iPhone and its touch technology, which proved to be more popular than the pen.
Palm Pilots may be a thing of the past, but the pen technology it required has had a revival in recent years, as numerous devices – most recently the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – are once again using it while retaining and even enhancing touch capabilities.
“It is an example of how consumers today want as much flexibility as possible, flexibility that N-trig’s technology gives them,” said N-trig CFO Eyal Leibovitz.
Last August, N-trig scored a major victory over veteran pen tech competitor Wacom, when Microsoft decided to use N-trig’s technology for its new Surface Pro 3 tablets.
“With our technology, Microsoft was able to make the Surface Pro 3 lighter, because our sensors enable both touch and pen interaction,” said Leibovitz. “Users can thus write on the screen or select and move items with finger swipes, and the manufacturers who we work with, like Microsoft, only have to insert one layer of sensor to enable this, instead of the two usually required.”
Buying N-trig will further enhance Microsoft’s presence in Israel, which already has two large R&D centers in the country. Israel is also the base of Microsoft’s worldwide start-up accelerator program, called Microsoft Ventures.
Established in 2012, the program has grown to include seven accelerators around the world. Besides Israel, the company has accelerators in Beijing, Bangalore, Paris, London, Berlin and Seattle, as well as a 50% stake in a Brazilian accelerator. All are modeled after the Israeli accelerator. The Israeli accelerator was so successful that Zack Weisfeld, one of the pioneers of the program when he was Microsoft Israel’s Director of Business Development, was appointed worldwide director of the MS Ventures program last year.
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