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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Will Designers Take to the iPad3?

Demand for an effective iPad stylus is rising.

  • February 29, 2012

Adobe Photoshop Touch came to the iPad this week. The app, which had been available for Android for a while, is downloadable for $10.

Jacob Schulman of The Verge, for one, was impressed with the app. He called it “surprisingly functional”–twice!–and demonstrated how it was good, especially, for quick-and-dirty photo editing. He summed up that the app “takes the best elements of its desktop counterpart and gives them applications that make sense for a tablet.” He was pleased enough to even pose the question, in his headline, of whether the app represented “the future of content creation.”

Schulman’s post is thought-provoking, and worth reading in full, but where it really gets interesting is in the comments section. His readers quickly take the conversation in another direction. As one asks, “I wonder how long it will be until the iPad is stylus-compatible (not a capacitive stylus, at that). This looks like a great app, but I’m not sure exactly how useful it’s going to be on the iPad.” (Capacitive styluses work by making the same kind of electrical connection your finger does.)

Steve Jobs disliked styluses. He told his biographer, “God gave us 10 styluses—let’s not invent another.” In 2007, when he introduced the iPhone, Jobs effectively killed the stylus. “Yech!” he said, and his fans applauded.

The critical tide is shifting, however. Farhad Manjoo recently declared in Slate his hope that the stylus would make a return someday soon. He embedded this intriguing 2010 video from Ken Hinckley on the new kinds of interactions that become possible when combining touch and stylus interactions on a screen.

Manjoo and Schulman both write with the mass market in mind–the common user who likes to dabble in the visual. (Much of Manjoo’s story is actually about handwriting apps, and his frustrations with not being able to scribble marginalia in e-books). To judge from the online commentariat, though, as well as a few Kickstarter projects, Apple would do well to begin to focus on one influential market in particular: designers, many of whom seem to be desperate for an effective iPad stylus.

Here, for instance, is a recent concept for “the world’s first pressure sensitive stylus for iPad.” The Jaja, as the device is called, earned well over its $25,000 fundraising goal; $65,414 was pledged.

Another Kickstarter project called iPen received about four-and-a-half times its fundraising goal: $162,333 on its stated goal of $35,000. The Cregle iPen emphasizes the ways in which it differs from a capacitive stylus: proximity sensitivity, precise handwriting, and palm rejection.

Currently, serious designers who want to work with a stylus on a screen typically opt for a device specifically designed for the task: Wacom’s Cintiq appears to be the gold standard, and probably will remain so for some time, for those who are extremely serious about on-screen scribbling.

But there’s a real business case for Apple to make sure the iPad 3 works well with a stylus–or even has one of Cupertino’s own making. Verge commenter Erik Bernhardsson (more on his art here), makes a compelling case in his comments on the Verge. He cites discussions in design forums where people are debating which tablet to get; many are gravitating to Samsung or Lenovo for the iPad’s lack of stylus support. “I’m a designer myself…I NEED a tablet,” he writes.

Is Apple listening?

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