If you’ve ever used a drawing tablet, you know that they all come with a special stylus for drawing. The stylus allows you to draw naturally with your hand, and it will even measure how hard you are pressing down, and adjust how wide your brush stroke becomes, for example. One of the difficulties of using a drawing tablet is that while you are drawing on the tablet, you must look up at the screen to see what you’re doing. Unlike typing or mousing, this is one of those activities where looking down at your hands to see what you’re doing is actually preferable.
Drawing tablet makers offer a solution in their high end tablets by integrating a display underneath their drawing surface, but as you can imagine, these are very costly. All that may be about to change.
Patently Apple is reporting that Apple is developing a graphics pen for the iPad. One of the main hurdles in using a stylus on a tablet computer is how to recognize where the tip of the stylus is. Most tablet computers are designed for a fingertip sized patch of conductivity, and if the conductive patch is too small, it may not be recognized by the screen. Apple’s solution is to engineer a conductive disc on a pivot to the end of the stylus, thus making the tip of the pen much larger. By putting it on a pivoting ball, it ensures that more of the disc will stay in contact with the screen no matter the angle at which you hold the pen. The center point of the pen tip can be approximated by knowing which contact points it is triggering.
Also in the patent are accelerometers and force detectors built into the pen, which would allow additional data to be sent to the device to change parameters such as line width, color selection, shading, and so on. These are functions that are the strengths of a traditional drawing tablet, but have yet to be seen on the latest generation of tablet devices.
Apple did have stylus input devices before, of course. With the Newton, Apple had a device that could do handwriting recognition and much more. But in the creation of the iPhone and iPad, Apple moved away from the stylus and touted the immediacy and intimacy of using your finger to interact with the screen.
When you want to create a paradigm shift, it often is best to leave the old ways behind and create something completely new. You can always adapt the old into the new paradigm once you establish it. I think Apple has clearly demonstrated the advantages to touch and has forever changed how we interact with our devices. Apple could safely re-introduce the pen back into the paradigm, and work to its strengths for drawing and creating art. If the iPad wasn’t compelling enough as it is, this would put it over the top for many digital artists.
If Apple gets this right, it will be huge.
Article and diagram via Patently Apple