There are plenty of digital drawing apparatus out there and they all boast the same feature: virtually no lag and “like paper”. But that’s the story with every update, add: reduced latency . But where exactly are we? And how good can digital drawing potentially get?

About a month ago Microsoft refreshed its Surface Pro range and one of the features it touted was the “industry leading” latency of only 21 ms for its Surface Pen. This was in reference to the Apple Pencil, whose latency was 51 ms at the time. Microsoft is rightly competing with the iPad; not only because of the substantial computing features over other drawing-only tools but that their screen is significantly superior. A paper-like experience is equally dependent on the screen, and the iPad’s laminated screen in particular pushes the pixels right to the surface.

But then Apple pushed its Pencil even further with the iPad Pro implementing a 120 Hz refresh rate, essentially reducing the latency to 20 ms. The 2.5x reduction is noticeable, and makes for a much better drawing experience but again, we’re dealing with comparables here. It’s definitely better than before but there is still lag and it can’t quite hold up as well to a pen (or pencil) substitute yet.

That’s where the above video kicks in; around five years ago an Applied Sciences team within Microsoft document the variations in latency of digital input and the impact it can have on drawing comfort. They start with 100 ms (which was standard at the time) and go all the way to 1 ms. I don’t know how far we are from achieving the latter in everyday consumer items, but the improvement is obvious.

We’ll eventually blow through that threshold as well with < 1 ms lag similar to ‘retina’ screens where the individual pixels are no longer visible. However its safe to say that we’ll reach a paper-like experience only once we hit that level.

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