Anti-Buzz Future Tech Hardware

Anti-Buzz: Stylus Pens

Andrew has been writing Anti Buzz for 4 years resulting in almost 200 articles. For the next several weeks we will revisit some of these just in case you missed it: This one from last year is interesting considering that one of the major selling points of the new SurfacePro 3 is the stylus.


The Buzz: A tech prediction! The Anti-Buzz is going to make a tech prediction!
The Anti-Buzz: I predict that stylus pens are going to get really popular.
The Buzz:

newface-620x461Groan, I hear you say, that’s a boring prediction. I admit that it might only seem bold in as much as it is very unexciting. Stylus pens? you ask, Why would you care about stylus pens? And they already are popular among among professionals trying to keep up appearances while they play Angry Birds at lunch. And they’ve already been popular among smart phone users, particularly Blackberries. So, yes, my prediction needs to pack a little more punch.

How about this? : My assertion is that stylus pens will be the focal point of the next big interface improvements. In a few years you won’t be able to work your iPad without one. And you won’t want to.

So I really am sticking my neck out here; things might not break this way.

We are at critical mass on touch interfaces, so much that even Microsoft is trying to push them for /desktops/. If I was Grand Czar of the computing industry and, several years ago, had been tasked with trying to get more computers in the hands of “technophobic” casual users, I’d still be shoveling netbooks into the fire and hoping.

I wouldn’t have thought of going sideways and pushing tablets. Ever. But somebody, somewhere, saw smartphones, saw the lukewarm reception to netbooks, did one of those cartoonish double takes where they go back and forth. Smarthpones. Netbooks. Smartphones. Netbooks. Finally – eureka – they understood the truth and their finger shot in the air: “People really hate keyboards!” And I think “not having a keyboard” really is the magic behind the tablet boom. Losing the keyboard wasn’t some compromise consumers made so they could have tinier computers. Losing the keyboard was the selling point. I think for a lot of people, keyboards create stress. They are just a lot of buttons and space.

Indeed, we’re experiencing a new high in pop-computing. The kind of person who was comfortable with computers – would use them at work, might use them at home, check their email, read a little news – was still not among the rest of us geeks who would put ourselves in front of a screen for every waking hour if we could. Now everybody’s in front of a screen. And most of them are touching it.

But something has to break the other way. These new touchscreen interfaces are refreshing, and made using a computer feel like a day under the cabana, but the vacation has to end eventually. The further tablets penetrate the consumer computing market, the more they are going to be expected to help us get our work done.

touch_stylusEnter the stylus pen. Right now, the stylus has a narrow use, its acknowledged function being that it offers more precision for a touch interface. This application is obvious on smartphones, which often sport them to match their smaller screens. But as applications become more complicated, (and serious), there has been and increasing need to move away from the touchscreen’s usual array of fat, comforting buttons. This is the easiest selling point: stylus pens allow for more complex displays and more precise interactions.

But this isn’t all about precision. We also lost the mouse in this shuffle. Easy, cabana-worthy computing doesn’t miss the mouse at all, as it is pretty much replaced by the touchscreen, but there are a few quiet advantages a mouse still has, the biggest one being that it has buttons, (though admittedly one of those buttons simply approximates “touch here”). The stylus pen will replace your finger because we can install buttons and other features into a stylus pen and we can’t do that with your finger. (It’s already happening with Samsung’s Galaxy Note series). Feature-rich stylus pens are in their infancy and I won’t wager on what the final iteration is going to look like, but I can speculate here. In addition to straight forward buttons they might react to you squeezing them, or maybe the back end will have a button to click, (like you do to use a real pen), that will put them in a different mode. We might even see the addition of pressure sensitive surfaces, adding even more variety to our ability to interact with a computer through a touchscreen. Regardless, somebody better at this than me is going to figure out the best way to use the real estate of a stylus pen, and it’s going to make the current run of tablet computers look archaic.

Plus, we can finally stop smearing the grease from our chicken wings all over our screens. That will be nice too.

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