"It's like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it."
That's the ever-popular comment made by the late Steve Jobs during the question and answer segment of the iPad announcement in April of 2010. Looking back at pre-iPhone touchscreen devices, they weren't exactly chubby finger-friendly and required the more accurate touch of a stylus. This is because displays of yesteryear used a different input method. Instead of the capacitive digitizers made with stubby fingers in mind, OEMs used resistive technology, which was far less accurate.
It was almost overnight that manufacturers stopped making phones with styluses and adopted capacitive touchscreen displays. Jobs spoke and the general public agreed. It must be true. The stylus is passé, dead even.
If Samsung has a say on the issue, however, they want you to believe otherwise. Rewind a week and a half to Super Bowl XLVI. You may recall that during the fourth quarter, they paid a pretty penny to air the longest ad of the Super Bowl for their revolutionary new product.
While we were already upset that "new and revolutionary" was being used to describe something that has already been around for some time, Samsung's Super Bowl ad was immediately mocked, (rightfully) critiqued and pulled limb from limb. It wasn't a terrible ad, but it wasn't great either. The greatest folly was the questionable highlight of the ad: the S Pen. Even at CES in Las Vegas, Samsung made everyone well aware that S Pen was their vision, their big gambit. There were multiple booths where atrists equipped with Galaxy Notes and an S Pen would readily conjure a portrait of you for printing on a t-shirt.
For those unaware, Samsung's S Pen that has been included with the Galaxy Note is a "smart" stylus that comes with its very own SDK. Within TouchWiz, there are included applications, such as S Planner, S Memo and other native applications, that work with the S Pen and allow you to take handwritten notes, screen shots and more. With the SDK, developers can implement S Pen compatibility with their own applications.
Ever since the Super Bowl, it's as if everyone has been bashing styluses (styli?) left and right. "Why would I need or want a stylus?" or "When would I use it and why?" I'm not saying these people don't have a point or that Jobs was totally wrong, but why not? My stubby fingers are only so accurate. Sure, in most situations, a finger will suffice. But have you ever tried to take written notes with a finger? Have you tried to draw on a phone or tablet with your finger? It isn't easy and is extremely unwieldy.
Then I began to wonder: have any of these people even tried the S Pen? And are they really that short sighted?
Old styli were used with resistive display technology, not capacitive digitizers. In other words, you had to apply pressure to use them, making it somewhat uncomfortable and inconvenient. And in most cases you had to use them. They weren't optional. Current, non-smart styli with felt or rubberized tips made for capacitive touch are inaccurate and, really, are hardly better than a finger. And all of this existing knowledge and experience with dated technology has turned the general public into naysayers.
But the S Pen is a different beast. I sat down with Aaron yesterday and was playing around with the S Pen from his Galaxy Note (here's the latest on his 30 day challenge, by the way). I even played with it countless times at CES. It's great and works better than any other stylus I've used in the past several years. I would definitely use it if I had the Note. Probably not very often, but I would use it. When I'm brainstorming, I like to hand draw things to hash out ideas. But I hate wasting paper and not being able to easily erase. The S Pen is a perfect in between solution. It isn't perfect, but it works.
For Samsung, it's a differentiator. Aside from the HTC Flyer, what other Android devices use a smart stylus? None that immediately come to mind. (If Samsung didn't include the S Pen, and instead charged for it like HTC did with the Flyer's Smart Pen, people would complain about that, too.) If they can market this correctly (and by that, I mean not including it in obvious Anti-Apple propaganda), it could be a huge foot in the door for ol' Sammy.
And it's not about me ... or you. The S Pen is about, as Jason Perlow of ZDNet describes, all of those old PalmPilot users who can't let go, all of those niche users who may need a stylus for their profession (artists, doctors who need to sign things, engineers, etc.) or simply for preference.
The stylus took a hiatus, but I have a feeling it will eventually make a comeback, one way or another.
Not everyone will need or use it. But what does it hurt having the option? Some will need and want a stylus for various things. Others won't. Big deal. Complaining about a phone having a stylus is like complaining about a car with a cigarette lighter. It's there for those who want or need it. For those who don't, there is no need in crying.