"If you see a stylus they blew it" – I’m with Steve Jobs

Xavier Lanier reported from the iPhone 4 OS launch at Apple headquarters that Steve Jobs answered a question about the possibility of a stylus for iPad with this little gem:

“If you see a stylus, they blew it”

Gotta love Steve J for his “super” quotes. Well sorry folks, but I’m with Steve on this one. For me the gem lies in the distinction between an active digitizer pen and a stylus.

You see, when Steve J thinks talks about stylus, he’s most likely talking about this (no offence Warner):


That’s right it’s a DIY stylus for a capacitive touch screen, like the one on the iPad.

When I think of a digital pen, I think of the active digitizer pen that did this:


As has been noted on these pages many times, using a stylus on a touch screen is awkward and limited at best. On the other hand, an active digitizer is a “powerful” tool that opens up “magical” possibilities.

For those who don’t know the difference (and true inkers know that this means the kind of people who will buy an iPad) here are a few pointers. Regular inkers, you probably already know this so feel free to skim it!

An Active digitizer:

  • Is proximity sensitive – that means that it also works when you hold it near the screen, as well as when you touch the screen
  • Is pressure sensitive – that means that It can tell how hard you press on the screen – great for digital sketching, drawing and painting
  • Is “amazing, truly wonderful, awesome and phenomenal” for note taking, handwriting input and mark-up
  • Is accurate and fast – by far the best tool for Tablet input, fast handwriting recognition, note taking, mark-up and content creation.

A resistive touch screen:

  • Requires you to touch the screen with something to work
  • Works with a finger or a fine point stylus
  • Is not pressure sensitive
  • Is not proximity sensitive
  • Is great for action inputs – like pressing big buttons (like virtual keyboard keys, slowly I might add)
  • Is ok for inking, but suffers from interference -from accidental inputs or touch

A capacitive touch screen:

  • Requires you to touch the screen
  • Requires a specialised blunt stylus like a crayon – See sock stylus above ;-)
  • Is not pressure sensitive
  • Is not proximity sensitive
  • Is great for action inputs – like pressing big buttons
  • Is awful for inking – suffers from the blunt tool effect plus interference from accidental touch

So, if you want to capture information unbound from a desk, standing up and walking around in the wide world on a slate – for example at an Apple press event – then you’ll need an active digitizer and not a sock stylus!

Tablet PCs with active digitizers can capture information in a way that all of those hundreds of Apple devotees at the iPhone OS launch event could not do on their iPads – and that is worth far more than 150,000 iPhone apps blown up big to me…

So Steve Jobs is right, if you see a stylus they blew it. If you see an active digitizer on the other hand, then write on!

– This article was handwritten on an active digitizer Tablet PC, one handed over breakfast using OneNote.