My Experiences With A Capacitive Stylus For The iPad

Kensington Virtuoso Stylus

Styluses are out right? That's what we've been saying for a long time, and for most usage scenarios it's - at least in my opinion - still true. Nevertheless, one week ago I decided to buy a capacitive pen for my iPad on Amazon; there's a huge range of those special styluses that work with capacitive touchscreens out there, but my final choice fell on a Kensington one, which bore the fancy name "Virtuoso." Mainly because it was cheap, and I didn't want to spend more than 20 bucks on something I might not even end up using.

So, at the original iPhone launch keynote, Steve Jobs said that styluses are the wrong way of interacting with touch devices. The most natural input devices are our fingers, he said, and I agreed with him. In fact, my father had a stylus-control-based Samsung Omnia Windows Mobile smartphone with a resistive touchscreen sometime in the past, and as you would expect, it was a horrible experience, it was terrible, using this handset was far from being enjoyable. So there's not no doubt that the original iPhone turned a touchscreen into something you want instead of somethig you have to interact with. It was the first time you would consider a touch-based phone over a traditional handset, and ever since that time in 2007, no one wanted to see styluses anymore. They stand for a generation of handsets that simply did not work well. It's not hard to see that I have a total aversion for those things that call themselves "pens," and in fact, when Samsung introduced its Galaxy Note phablet back in 2011 at IFA, I kind of ... mentally freaked out. I thought: "Why are they doing this, why are they bringing the worst thing in recent smartphone history back, why?" (Yes, it was exactly like this). OK, admittedly, it's not just about the stylus itself; back in 2004 most touchscreens were resistive and basically did not function anyway, but the fact that styluses represent this era of hardly-working handsets is undeniable.

But what was the reason for my purchase if anyway then? You probably already know it: It was this neat little drawing app called "Paper by FiftyThree," which was featured on almost every website I visited back then. After seeing a short video demonstration of this program, I opened up the App Store on my iPad, and I noticed that Paper was actually free; so why bother loading it? It took ten seconds, and it was installed on my device. I was one step away from testing it out. A nice little tap on the icon, and Paper's UI revealed itself to me. So far, everything just seemed really clean and pretty, I looked at a selection of notebooks with nice textures and - obviously - different names. Intuitively, I tapped on one of these digital notebooks and started drawing. Again, everything was pretty cool thus far. After seconds, I noticed that the free version only comes with one pen, but there was a built-in store where you could buy four other drawing tools for $7.99. Since I was taken by Paper's simplicity, I decided to pick up those extra pens, and the rest is history: A few days later I bought the aforementioned stylus - everything without having any talent in drawing. (I can't draw at all to be more precise).

Nevertheless, I convinced myself that Paper might work even better with a stylus as input method because one probably can be more precise at drawing using such a pen. A day after ordering it, the delivery people rang on my door, carrying the packet with my Virtuoso stylus. So I started using it. Immediately, I was really surprised by how more accurate you could be with it and how more comfortable sketching and scribbling really is. I also felt that my 'works' turned out better at the end than before when I was just using my fingers. 'Natural' is possibly the right word to describe this new experience; yes, it really is, since humans have adapted to using pens for writing and drawing, whereas doing the same things with our fingers would just be a step backwards in evolution (if you believe in it). Or have you ever seen somebody painting with his or her fingers outside of kindergarten?

On the other hand, I still agree with Jobs' statement mentioned above: At other taks, a stylus is completely unnecessary and in fact much worse than our digits. Multi-touch gestures can't be done with it, and you feel distanced from what you are doing. Back when the original iPad was announced, one of the major things that fascinated people was that you could have the Internet right at your fingertips. It was the most intuitive web-browsing experience ever at that point; the same applies to photos and all other sorts of media. With a stylus, this is just not true. Almost everything is less intuitive, almost everything feels less enjoyable, and at almost everything you do with your iPad, you recognize that it's actually a real computer and not just that thing you pick up, do something with, and put aside - everything without realizing that what you just used is to some extent a piece of hardware with a processor, a GPU, and lots of silicon stuff inside of it.

This is the main point that kept me from using a stylus for my iPad, and this is simply why Apple was right, and everybody else was wrong (I'm sorry to say). This is why the original iPhone was such a huge success, and this is why all the previous smartphones sucked. This is why 'Post-PC's' are the future, and this is why the number of current smartphones with a stylus is so low. I think if it weren't for the death of this input method, Macs and PC's with keyboards and mice would still dominate the consumer electronics world in hundred years. But no, in a hundred years, we are all going to sit in front of our tablets with nothing but our fingers, not remembering those odd things called 'styluses.'

What do you think about that?



[Image via: Kensington]