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The Next Big Thing
Is a stylus revival on the way?Following the announcement of Apple's Pencil, Brian Cooley explains why stylus-controlled devices might be making a comeback.
[MUSIC] The stylus, it's not something we're actually crazy about. I mean, it conjures up images of the old Palm Pilot, the Apple Newton, the credit card terminal you last used. Steve Jobs famously railed against styli a few years ago as really bad human-machine interface. We're gonna use a stylus. No. [LAUGH] No, who wants a stylus? In recent years, smart phones and tablets have totally captivated us, and largely because they're touch. No training, no accessory, no gadget, it's intuitive. If you're two years old, You know how to use a touch device. Now some mobile devices that do use a stylus have soldiered along in largely a supporting role. but there's evidence now that perhaps the stylus may move up to a full co-star, if you will, alongside the touch screen. Based on three emerging and refining criteria. First, there's greater precision. Your finger necessarily is kind of a blunt instrument. It ends in a broad, blunt tip, and it can't help but do much more than have these sort of vague specific actions on a screen. The problem is we would like to do more fine inputs, especially for drawing and writing for example. Now, there are some apps out there that have stylus input, that let you select a thin line. But it's a menu selection, it's a conscious action. That's clunky interface. With a stylus today, the precision is so good. For example, the current Microsoft Surface Pro claims to be accurate within one-half millimeter of where you intend to tap. 98% of the time that you do tap, that's almost imperceptibly off. Then, there's position and pressure. If a stylus is nothing more than another way to poke and stab at things like your finger does, you might not take the trouble to buy one, keep from losing it, charging it, and that sorta thing But in fact, the modern styli are developing a lot of nuance based on the pressure with which you use them, creating thick or thin lines, as well as the angle at which you hold it. Look at the new Apple Pencil on iPad Pro. Its actual inclination level makes it create a different input on the screen. Not just how hard you press it. Finally there's lower latency. Microsoft has been doing a lot of interesting research around this as they developed service pro showing clearly this dramatic lag between the tip of your Stylus and how long it Takes for that to show up on the screen. If there is not an immediate reaction to the stylus, your brain, your eye, and your hand muscles notice it. Now we're seeing on devices like iPad pro and Surface pro, that there is almost no latency between Between the movement of the stylus and the indication of that mark on the screen. It feels more like a real pen and pencil, which has zero latency. Over recent years, of course, mobile devices have stolen a ton of share away from desktops and laptops with their keyboards, mice, and trackpads. The next shift in our behavior of input to machine may very much come from styli and touch-sensitive mobile. It may also mean you need to brush up on your handwriting and drawing skills. Know what's next at CNET.com/NextBigThing, I'm Brian Cooley.