Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A stylus pen isn't just a stylus pen

Stylus pens have really evolved over the past few decades. I still remember the days of the plastic toothpick stylus pens that were in Palm Pilot PDAs. Then, we saw Windows Tablet PCs using Wacom technology and it was really cool to see the pointer moving on the screen as you hovered your pen above the display without physically touching the glass. For a while, Wacom dominated the tablet PC industry because their active digitizer stylus pens didn't require an internal battery. Plus, you had buttons on the pen that would activate the Right Click on a mouse. Or, you could flip the pen around and use the eraser like a real eraser. These Wacom pens were compatible across any device, so you could use Fujitsu pens on a Lenovo tablet and vice versa. I must have a drawer full of Wacom pens that are different sizes and colors.

Wacom continues to make a variety of stylus pens and tablets for artists and enterprise professionals. Their technology is still used in devices like the new Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. The Samsung Galaxy Note series uses an S-Pen that is based on the Wacom technology.

Over the past few years, we also saw some activity from N-Trig, but these pens were not quite as smooth as the Wacom pens. Plus, the pens needed a really thin AAAA battery (yes, 4 As). I saw this pen used in the first Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet running Android. HP also used this pen on their HP Slate 500 and HP Slate 2. Fujitsu uses N-Trig pens on the Stylistic Q702.

Given the popularity of touch-only devices like the iPad, we're seeing a rise of capacitive stylus pens that are either dedicated stylus pens or you're finding a rubberized "eraser" on the end of a standard ink pen. These capacitive stylus pens are somewhat awkward and not very precise. Plus, if you rest your palm on the screen, you may encounter some strange "vectoring" on the display. So far, the Adonit Jot Pro pen has given me the highest level of precision on an iPad screen.

Going back to Wacom - there is a different Wacom technology called Wacom feel. The have a pen called the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Feel. The Wacom Feel is a pen technology that is being used in devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note, the Dell Latitude 10, the Fujitsu Lifebook T902 and T732, and other tablets. You now have different options for hard vs. softer tips for more precise and comfortable writing.

So, where does that leave us in 2013? Wacom is coming back. I'm also seeing capacitive pens gaining popularity. Maybe this will convince the executives at Apple that it's time to release an iPad that supports an active stylus pen. I think 2013 will be the year of the digital pen.

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