Monday, September 22, 2014

Stylus behaviour on Microsoft Surface 3 tablets

Note: The purpose of this post is basically just so we have a link when this comes up in future bugreports.

Some stylus devices have two buttons on the stylus, plus the tip itself which acts as a button. In the kernel, these two are forwarded to userspace as BTN_STYLUS and BTN_STYLUS2. Userspace then usually maps those two into right and middle click, depending on your configuration. The pen itself used BTN_TOOL_PEN when it goes into proximity.

The default stylus that comes with the Wacom Intuos Pro [1] has an eraser on the other side of the pen. If you turn the pen around it goes out of proximity and comes back in as BTN_TOOL_RUBBER. [2] In the wacom X driver we handle this accordingly, through two different devices available via the X Input Extension. For example the GIMP assigns different tools assigned to each device. [3]

In the HID spec there are a couple of different fields (In Range, Tip Switch, Barrel Switch, Eraser and Invert) that matter here. Barrel Switch is the stylus button, In Range and Tip Switch are proximity and "touching the surface". Invert signals which side of the pen points down, and Eraser is triggered when the eraser touches the surface. In Wacom tablets, Invert is always on when the eraser touches because that's how the pens designed.

Microsoft, in its {in}finite wisdom has decided to make the lower button an "eraser" button on its Surface 3 Pen. So what happens now is that once you press the button, In Range goes to zero, then to one in the next event, together with Invert. Eraser comes on once you touch the surface but curiously that also causes Invert to go off. Anyway, that's a low-level detail that will get handled. What matters to users is that on the press of that button, the pen goes virtually out of proximity, comes back in as eraser and then hooray, you can now use it as an eraser tool without having actually moved it. Of course, since the button controls the mode it doesn't actually work as button, you're left with the second button on the stylus only.

Now, the important thing here is: that's the behaviour you get if you have one of these devices. We could work around this in software by detecting the mode button, flipping bits here and there and trying to emulate a stylus button based on the mode switches. But we won't. The overlords have decreed and it's too much effort to hack around the intended behaviour for little gain.

[1] If marketing decides to rename products so that need a statement "Bamboo pen tablets are now Intuos. Intuos5 is now Intuos Pro." then you've probably screwed up.
[2] Isn't it nice to see some proper queen's English for a change? For those of you on the other side of some ocean: eraser.
[3] GIMP, rubber tool, I'm not making this up, seriously

1 comment:

Winrich said...

- Note: The purpose of this post is basically just so we have a link when this comes up in future bugreports. Some stylus devices have two ...