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The Return of the Stylus (statspotting.com)
43 points by npguy 1786 days ago | hide | past | web | 48 comments | favorite

Not including a stylus with the iPhone and the iPad was brilliant from a marketing perspective. And not in a bad way by any means. It educated developers. It taught everyone that if a UI requires a stylus then there's something wrong with it.

The problem is that this idea shouldn't be taken to its logical extreme. Steve Jobs’ phrase "If they include a stylus, they did it wrong"—or was that Bob Marley?—is analogous to "If your website requires a keyboard, it's broken". That is, it's a good design principle but you obviously don't want to apply it when the user wants to enter text (in your website) or scribble a note (in your tablet app).

So insofar this article points out that it's easier to write notes using a stylus than using a finger, it's kicking in a wide-open door.

But I'm not convinced that it's easier to use a stylus than a finger to tap buttons.

Unfortunately this article doesn't go into this issue. In fact, it unnecessarily obscures it: "Try taking a screenshot, scribble some notes on that, and email it. Do it on a touch-only device, and then try it on the Note II. You will see the difference."

Mind you, I would love it if the iPad had support for styluses. I can definitely think of an application or two that would benefit! What I don't want, though, is to end up wondering where I put my stylus all the time.

> But I'm not convinced that it's easier to use a stylus than a finger to tap buttons.

I have an stylus based ereader. It is great to get some document and make notes all over it. For example, it is great to put a circuit diagram in it, and then redraw lines, add parts, draw arrows, etc. It feels like paper, except that it's slower and easier to erase.

You don't get that with a keyboard.

"What I don't want, though, is to end up wondering where I put my stylus all the time."

Sounds like an app in the making: stylus finder. Have it draw a big arrow on the screen to point you in the direction of the stylus.

Steve Jobs only really meant that if you need a stylus for most tasks on your device, you're doing it wrong. But I think pens with active digitizers can be very useful for certain tasks, and if Apple were smart about this, they'd enable it in a future iPad and sell such pens as accessories to the iPad.

They know very well that they have a ton of artists using iPads in their userbase, and a lot of drawing apps, too. I don't think they have a good reason for not making active digitizer pens for their iPad other than the fact that they don't want to seem like hypocrites after Steve Jobs' comment. But hey - it's already too late for that. They've already made a 7" tablet, too - so they are hypocrites - and might as well do this, too.

I think we'll see Samsung expand on the pen idea in the coming year (rumors point to Galaxy S4 having a stylus, too), and I intend to buy a next-gen Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet next year, as well as recommend one for a fashion designer friend. I wish they were Google-blessed Nexus devices, so I don't have to deal with the Samsung-only custom apps for the S-pen, but it doesn't look like Google cares too much about active digitizer pens right now, and Samsung's Note devices and their S-pen are currently the best on the market for this.

Steve Jobs, like the CEO of every other major tech company, just bad-mouthed whatever the competition had that they didn't have. When people like him or Ballmer make a statement that some piece of tech isn't good, it carries no information.

It goes back to Job's argument about cars v trucks. For the majority of what people want to do, car are fine. But some people need trucks. The iPhone is a car. A touchscreen with a stylus is a truck. It's a similar dichotomy to laptops for consuming web content, and workstations for editing video.

As what I would describe as a "semipro" artist, I would not use an ipad to draw, because the latency isn't good enough yet. People might play with it, but no professional can use it until the latency is about 10 times better than it currently is.

It's not exactly precision art is it? It's only even mildly interesting because it's art under a heavy constraint. You could paint a picture using a 3' log instead of a paintbrush if you want to, but that doesn't make 3' logs a particularly good artistic instrument.

That's one of those things where the medium is itself the interesting part of the art, not the final product.

It's 'good art' precisely because the artist is so hindered by the iPad.

How does the Note range compare in terms of latency?

I've never tried it, but I can speculate that it's similar to the 100+ms latency of comparable devices. It needs to be more on the order of 5-10ms for it to truly viable, and then the screens need to be bigger to make it feasible to do a lot of good work on them. It'll get there, I know there's work being done in this direction, but it's not there yet.

They probably have some kind of deal with Wacom which prevents them from having any kind of high quality stylus support.

It might be that - hang on for this - some tasks are better suited to stylus and some to finger pointing. Having used stylus on my Palm VII, I was basically 'meh' about it - it worked, but wasn't ideal for many tasks. We may be entering a period where computing power and resolution make stylus-input superior for certain tasks.

I really miss the stylus input on the old NEC Versa Litepad tablet. Combined with its great handwriting recognition, I could actually do some serious editing of PDFs in Acrobat and writing in OneNote. Contrast that with an iPad (mini and maxi) and GoodReader, where it's slow and laborious to even mark up a PDF, and I've tried several different stylus products.

Followed by the return of the mouse and back to ground zero where to be honest we were all quite happy to start with before everyone decided to rip off star trek the next generation.

This article is right and wrong at the same time. There are numerous accessories for iOS and Andriod devices that make daily use easier, like the Bluetooth keyboard and metallic tip gloves. While the stylus is useful (at least according to the article), I think it should really be classified as another accessory and not a revolutionary blast from the past. Also, to the author's challenge of taking a screenshot and writing a note on it I respond, 1) this isn't a practical use case and 2) there are numerous apps that add a note or caption to your photo with greater legibility than my own penmanship.

I have the note and i would have to agree with the article. I don't think "scribble some notes on a screenshot" is supposed to be a typical use case, it is just one that will demonstrate the benefit of a stylus quickly.Having used the stylus for a while I definitely prefer it and tend to miss it on other devices.

The stylus does have some lag to it and you have to get used to not seeing your writing show up immediately. When you see your writing hasn't showed up yet you tend to stop or slow down which isn't necessary, just keep writing and trust it will show up. I know that sounds terrible but it's really not.

I found it pretty terrible, but I didn't really commit to using the device, just played with it for awhile in the store.

Which is of course why the iPhone was so brilliant. Current stylus technology still can't create a paper-like, pleasant writing experience, while capacitive touchscreen technology can create a pretty good direct manipulation experience. People aren't going to commit to getting over the learning curve after the unpleasant in store experience just because of the theoretical advantages of the stylus.

Its not just the stylus technology: the screen themselves are glass. How often have you written on a glass? Maybe with a marker...

I'm used to the textured feel of paper and the pleasant friction b/w the pen and paper when writing on it. On glass, it just slips... However, I guess that's just something of a habit. Maybe for future generations, brought up with touchscreen enabled laptops, it will feel more natural.

It's not just habit, writing is just easier on paper. The texture of the paper does two things while you're writing: provide continuous feedback and provide resistance. Delicate movements are a little bit easier when you have some resistance to work against. That's why steering wheels these days still have a lot of push back, even though they're electronic and could be designed to turn much more easily. Moreover, the feel of the pen moving across the textured paper gives the body an additional source of information about which direction the pen is moving in and how fast. This allows for more precise control versus just depending on sight and proprioception.

> That's why steering wheels these days still have a lot of push back, even though they're electronic

I thought power steering was still hydraulic. Are you saying we have "fly by wire" cars?

Many popular cars have electric power steering (most new Toyotas, many Chevys, even some BMWs). A sensor monitors the position of the wheel and drives an electric motor to turn the wheels. They're not completely fly by wire, because the motor augments a traditional mechanical linkage, but that goes back to wanting to maintain the feel of mechanical steering (and also to provide redundancy).

I loved and miss the stylus on my palm devices. Accurate, natural, and you can use your fingernail if you lose the stylus.

Touch always felt like a blunt instrument to me, and blind because my finger hides what my finger is touching.

I agree that the stylus needs to come back. There are just too many tasks that could be better implemented on a tablet with a stylus to ignore it. It should also be noted that Apple flip flops all the time. If they want the iPad to truly be the defacto tablet for the next decade, incorporating stylus input is going to be important. I have the More/Real stylus (http://more-real.com) and it works really well, but it's still technically a hack for your finger.

The Return of the Stylus

Can think of a certain company crossing its fingers, hoping to hear this statement repeated oft in 2013... what with the impending release of the Surface Pro

The interface for iPhone and a lot of iPad apps would not benefit from a stylus. Buttons are huge. That Samsung device has teeny tiny buttons which requires a stylus. There are only two things I think that can benefit from a stylus and that is handwriting (do we really need to do this? It's slower, harder to read, and very constrained on a small device) and drawing (probably only necessary on iPad). Styluses also require you to hold the device in a new way. No more one handed use. You have to hold the device flat on a surface or in the palm of your secondary hand while you use this stylus in your dominant hand to point. Also, unlike a pencil or pen on paper, the small screen will not allow you to rest the side of your hand on a surface. I can't imagine how tiring it will be to keep your hand in this position for more than a few moments. I think you're mistaking something being different and temporarily fun to explore from something actually being better.

I have a stylus for use on my iPad ($1 on Ebay).

Using a stylus is better for drawing and browsing, but typing is still much faster with fingers. Since using an iPad involves a lot of typing and it's pushed as a communication device, I guess that is why Apple don't push the stylus.

That's why Palm devices had Graffiti, which is wayyyyy better than typing on this stupid on-screen-always-too-small keyboards (Gad I hate those. I really hate typing on a screen).

What kind of use case is "scribble some notes on a screenshot?" If I want to talk about the contents of a screenshot, I'll just type in a note along with the email. Even with the S-Pen, handwriting isn't really legible unless you write awkwardly slow.

OK then. Draw a couple of arrows on a screenshot or annotate/highlight some parts.

That's a pretty common usecase. Common enough for a whole class of apps such as Skitch etc.

You can do that just fine with your fingers.

You can eat just fine with your fingers, yet most people prefer utensils.

Not in India and Africa. And even in the West there are many dishes that people prefer to eat with their hands.

>OK then. Draw a couple of arrows on a screenshot or annotate/highlight some parts.

Nothing is easier with touch. Why'd you'd need a stylus for that?!!!

I do use a stylus sometimes with the iPad but for things like painting.

Surely not for Skitch.

I suspect that if one had a high quality stylus, pep low would do a lot more annotation of photographs. Right now, the poor stylus technology (either a poor stylus or a finger) limits what one can do with such programs.

Weird article. "Try taking a screenshot, scribbling some notes on it, and emailing it." Well, sure, styluses are good at things suited to styluses, such as handwriting. Try taking a screenshot, writing 500 words of commentary on the UI, and emailing it -- that's going to be far easier with a keyboard. Does that mean keyboards will be the next hot accessory?

Also, when Jobs did his big reveal, many stylus-based devices had awful resistive screens ("awful" and "resistive" both being descriptive of the screen -- resistive can be good). That's what the accuracy comment was aimed at.

"Does that mean keyboards will be the next hot accessory?"

Errr.... yes? I assume you meant that as some sort of bizarre out-there statement that was obviously wrong, but I don't think it is. I'm seeing more of the keyboard covers in my local iPad users set and I doubt they are going to be an aberration for long.

I hope so. I've been using my old Nokia N900 after my touch-only Galaxy Nexus got stolen, and having the slide-out keyboard is wonderful.

If the stylus input devices are indeed so useful, why weren't mice replaced in the desktop market?

If mice are so useful, why weren't steering wheels replaced in the car market?

Different tools for different jobs. I don't want to browse the web using a stylus, it's just too awkward. I don't want to compose an essay using a touchscreen keyboard.

Because desktop screens aren't touchscreens? I don't get it, is this a trick question?

My main gripe with scribbling down using a stylus is the huge lag that seems to exist between the stroke and the curve appearing on the screen. It seems to me that that's the thing that keeps me going back to pen and paper.

There was a great video on this by Microsoft Research- basically, you have to get the lag down to 1ms for it to feel like you're really writing or moving a physical object. The iPhone 5 is 23ms according to a quick Google.


> "Try taking a screenshot, scribble some notes on that, and email it."

This only matters if such a multi-step flow is a large human need. I'm not sure it is.

If this was quick and easy, I could see it becoming a major form of communication. Since everyone has a computer/camera/Internet communicator in their pocket, the reason people don't is probably because the interface leaves something to be desired.

Speaking as a smart phone user, I hope the mechanic of using your fingers as the control scheme for small flat surfaces will be retrospectively seen as a failed experiment, and eventually forgotten. I find the lack of tactile feedback to be awkward and a source of numerous mispresses. I don't think it's anything I'll ever "get used to", and hopefully I won't have to.

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