David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Stylus You Can Talk To

One possible future for digital styluses.

  • June 22, 2012

A recent patent application reveals a possible future for the digital stylus, a technology that has yet to come of age, but for which there is considerable demand. The patent application came from Samsung Electronics, and envisions a stylus for use with the Galaxy S III and other devices. The site Patent Bolt first spotted the application.

Possibly the coolest feature of the stylus is that it would double as a microphone of sorts. I opined earlier that it might be too soon for Siri to come to the iPad, partly because the iPad is more typically kept at a distance from the mouth, unlike the iPhone. It’s also cumbersome to lift the iPad to your mouth in an effort to make sure Siri (or whoever you’re chatting with on the Skype app) can hear you loud and clear. But a stylus that also served as your vocal nexus to your tablet might not be a bad idea.

Steve Jobs famously mocked the digital stylus, but the truth is, there’s increasing demand for them. Particularly if consumer tablets are to win over designers, they’ll need to develop a stylus that works, and ideally one that feels as natural as a pen. (I explored some of these issues back in February in a post about demand for iPad styluses.) In May, a patent application surfaced revealing Apple’s interest in an “iPen” stylus, despite its founder’s antipathy for the gadgets.

Of course, there are already plenty of styluses already on the market, for the iPad or for other devices. Sometimes the styluses are made by third parties (as with the iPad); sometimes they come along with the hardware. The Galaxy Note, for instance, comes with a stylus called an S-Pen, as demonstrated here.

But frustration with styluses tends to reign, particularly in high-end design circles. Most styluses simply don’t give that rooted, pen-on-paper responsiveness that people crave, partly as a byproduct of the capacitive sensing technology styluses rely on. Neat bells and whistles like the ability to place and receive calls through a stylus are a step in the right direction, but the company that wins the stylus wars (to the extent they can be called that) will be the one that most effectively simulates the satisfying feeling of pen on paper.

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