Apple Working on a Better Stylus

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As much as Apple might want us to use our fingers for everything on our iOS devices, the fact is that a stylus makes many things (like drawing and writing) a lot easier. The problem with stylii right now is that passive, capacitive stylii have no mechanism for feedback (pressure, specifically), sure devices like the Pogo Connect help but even they aren’t perfect. As you might expect Apple does get this problem and is working on a new active stylus that could do some cool things.

Yes, yes, Steve Jobs decried the stylus when the iPhone first came out. He was right, however, requiring you to use another pointing device to use your smartphone when your finger would do just dandy was just nuts. I had several Palm devices back in the day and kept a crazy number of extra stylii around just in case I lost one. I think if I dig around old boxes in storage I’ll even find a few of those cheap plastic sticks lying around. Now, I have at least a half-dozen stylii around for my devices. A couple have pretty much worn out (like the Pogo Express that I loved so much I wore through the tip and the HAND stylus), and a few just sit around as extras when I want to doodle or scribble something. They all, save my Pogo Connect, have the same limitations that even your finger has when working with the capacitive screen—they are passive.

From Patently Apple, though, we have their final patent post of 2012 which points to work Apple is doing on this very problem: making touch active but not costing more to produce or scads of power:

Apple’s invention generally relates to a stylus that can act as a drive and/or a sense element in a capacitive touch system. Unlike conventional styluses which work passively by blocking electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel, the styluses disclosed in this patent filing can either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both.

Accordingly, the styluses disclosed in this patent filing can be referred to as active styluses in comparison to conventional passive styluses. These active styluses can significantly improve stylus sensing on a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel without incurring significant additional cost. According to this patent, that translates to the “active stylus” being able to be used on Apple’s iPhone and iPad which are directly listed as examples.

Apple’s invention introduces various active styluses that can be free of some or all of the shortcomings of conventional passive styluses and can provide improved stylus sensing in a mutual capacitive touch system. An active stylus as discussed in Apple’s invention can act as a drive electrode, sense electrode, or both in a mutual capacitive touch system.

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A system like this, at least how I read it, could not only give the pressure sensitivity needed for subtle drawing and sketching, but also the physical feedback essential to writing and drawing. When your pen or pencil moves across paper you feel it through the barrel of the device. That resistance and drag helps you—whether you realize it or not—be expressive as you draw or write. Now a stylus that could mimic that kind of feeling would just be amazing.

I wouldn’t expect this kind of magic stylus in 2013. I’m betting the year after though. For it also to be really magic the APIs for pressure sensing would have to be built into iOS, so I’d peg that for iOS 8. Just like the Adonit and Pogo pressure sensitive stylii have their own APIs to work with specific apps, an Apple “Magic Stylus” would need to do the same.

The next question would be how to keep the stylus from wandering away from your device, but the smart money is on magnets for that one.

Via: Patently Apple

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