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Chris Davies on Why the Stylus Isn’t Dead



Chris Davies of SlashGear has penned a post on why he thinks the stylus and Digital Inking isn’t dead. Leaping off from Steve Jobs’ famous quote, “It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it.”

Chris does a good job of distinguishing between what an active digitizer and stylus can do versus the throw-ins that come with a lot of devices from Windows Mobile phones to convertibles with resistive digitizers. (He calls those plastic toothpicks and I agree.) The rest of his analysis hinges on what we know now versus what we know now about pens, UI, and all things Tablet. While I can argue with some of his reasoning, I can’t argue with the premise of his thesis.

I’ll add two things that I guess qualify as my $.02.

Consumption devices versus devices that allow for creation don’t easily allow for advertising revenue. Apple’s iAds program tells us a lot about how it sees the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch platform in the long run, and Microsoft made that an institutional priority some time ago. That has an affect on where the development dollars go.

Call me crazy, but when Steve Jobs seems ardently opposed to something it usually means somewhere deep in the recesses of Apple someone is working on what he says he’s against.



  1. Glenn

    05/10/2010 at 6:35 am

    The stylus sharpens the gesture of the fingers as does any simple tool; paint brush, sculpture’s pallet knife, sewing needle. In the same way well chosen words sharpen thoughts.
    Speed is a contextual specification. If one is copying text into a word document and is not shaping thought at the same time, speed aids. But when attempting to apply concepts to a discussion of a discreet audience, speed kills. I can write in the dirt with my big toe at a speed consistent with careful thinking.
    In short, the stylus versus finger argument is one of function against marketing. Or as you said, creation versus consuming, which is a useful distinction. Creators need simple tools to focus the work of the hand and mind. Marketing and marketers want to give you the finger every time.

  2. Glenn

    05/10/2010 at 6:37 am

    The Pad Marketer: “What do you have in YOUR nostril?”

  3. Joe T.

    05/14/2010 at 2:23 pm

    Wow, Glenn. A couple of great thoughts in that comment (the first comment, that is). “The stylus sharpens the gesture of the fingers” and “Speed is a contextual specification.”

    Thanks for the insights. I never thought at that level, simply stayed at the “I wanna just write …” level.

  4. Glenn

    05/14/2010 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for the good words Joe. I have been trying to write clearly on these issues for years. Reading this site and the good comments here helps.

  5. Stefan Fischer

    02/15/2011 at 3:30 pm

    Given the small display-size of most smartphones (<4 inch diagonal), but their high resolution (better than 480×320), it is obvious that their information density (pix/cm^2) cannot be adressed by a thick finger-tip. Only the thin tip of a stylus (or of a ladie's long finger-nail) can make good use of that information density. A typical example: cut-and-paste of text, starting and ending at a precise character. This is impossible for a finger-tip, since it is unprecise and the finger occludes the view.

    This means that capacitive touchscreens, which require an extended surface of the finger to be in contact with the screen to register a "touch", are not at all appropriate for pocket-sized devices like smartphones when one tries to do more than just viewing information, but tries to actually modify the text/picture/etc. that is shown on the screen.

    So far, only resistive touchscreens allow to work with a stylus or a finger-nail. For many users, this is really a more useful feature than being able to zoom with gestures (multi-touch feature of capacitive touchscreens). Zooming can be achieved in many other ways (for ex. by having a zoom-button, etc.). But nothing can replace pointing accuracy. Note that track-balls and other similar poiting-devices are no substitute for the ability to directly point to the screen with high accuracy.

    In any case, technology already exists that allows to combine the advantages of capacitive and resistive displays, see for ex. (to whom I am related in no way). Unfortunately, this is being ignored in the newly released smartphones.

    Stefan Fischer, University of Heidelberg.

  6. Stefan Fischer

    02/15/2011 at 3:45 pm

    PS> I cannot wait for Steve Jobs to introduce iFood, the revolutionary way to eat with your fingers, instead of with fork&knive ;-)

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