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Google and 3M have joined an initiative working toward an open standard for styluses

Google and 3M have joined an initiative working toward an open standard for styluses


The Universal Stylus Initiative promotes styluses that are compatible between touchscreen devices

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Photo: Adonit

The humble pen isn’t dead — or at least the stylus isn’t. Because styluses remain a big piece of the mobile accessories market, Google and 3M have joined the Universal Stylus Initiative (USI), a collective that aims to create an open, non-proprietary active stylus specification. The standard will be designed for manufacturers to create and promote styluses that are compatible with various touchscreen devices, including phones and tablets.

To accomplish this, the standard uses two-way communication instead of just one. Ink color and stroke preferences are stored in the stylus, which can be taken across different devices, while up to six styluses can operate simultaneously on a single device. The USI standard supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity (the same pressure level as Samsung’s S Pen and Microsoft’s Surface Pen) and 9-axis inertial measurement to follow and track complex movements precisely.

There are plenty of styluses on the market. Apple released its $99 Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro in 2015, featuring pressure-sensitive technology, much like Samsung’s S Pen for its Galaxy Note series of devices. Those obviously aren’t compatible with one another; you can’t use an S Pen with an iPhone for instance. USI aims to change that and allow the same stylus to operate across different touch-enabled devices as long as the device’s touch controller is compliant with the USI 1.0 specification. It’s a lofty goal, considering it doesn’t have major players like Samsung, Microsoft, or Apple on board just yet.

The standard also defines the method in which the stylus sends data like pressure level, eraser actions, and button presses back to the device it’s being used on. USI says its technology makes use of the existing touch sensor in touchscreen devices, so enabling the standard wouldn’t cost a lot — if anything at all.

The USI was launched in 2015. In addition to Google and 3M, Lattice Semiconductor, Maxeye Smart Technologies, MyScript, and Tactual Labs have also joined the initiative, which now has over 30 members.