June 02, 2010

Brief thoughts (and a question) on tablets & styluses

When did my finger start resembling a giant breadstick? More on that in a moment.

Of tablet computers Steve Jobs recently said, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”

I think he’s right, insofar as he’s talking about requiring the use of a stylus. There’s a big difference, however, between requiring something and enabling it as an option.

Regarding the former, ten years ago I bought and almost immediately returned a big Kyocera-Palm frankenphone. I loved the promise of a phone/pocket computer, but having to pop out a stylus to perform even the simplest tasks was a deal breaker. In contrast, my simple Nokia offered just two soft keys and a rocker switch, but that simplicity led to an efficient UI. Forcing me to use a stylus forced me to ditch the phone.

When it comes to drawing and painting, however, using a finger really sucks for anything precise. Yes, a talented artist can do impressive work, but there’s a reason people don’t use their fingers to draw and write on paper. Have you tried drawing anything with any precision on an iPad? (Don’t just launch an app and screw around; try to draw something very specific.) Maybe it’s just me, but suddenly my fingertip looks enormous, blotting out the area I’m trying to mark. I find myself tipping my whole hand up and down, trying to see what’s underneath my finger.

I don’t know what can be done with the I/O on iPads and future tablets, but I really hope that a vendor can deliver a pressure-sensitive stylus. I think it would be a watershed moment for sketching on the go.

Question: Would you be willing to pay for such a thing? And if so, how much?

PS–Yesterday Steve acknowledged the imprecision of a finger: “The minute you throw a stylus out, you have the [reduced] precision of a finger, you can’t use a PC OS.”

PPS–Somehow I neglected to mention an insight gained talking with artists at Pixar and elsewhere: they find drawing and painting on an iPad interesting, but in a sort of abstract, intellectual way–until you show them the ability to smudge pixels with a finger. That’s when they start lighting up. Pretending that one’s finger is a pencil isn’t that interesting, but using one’s finger as a finger *feels* deeply correct. There’s some kind of lower-brain connection that brings out a lot of smiles.

Posted by John Nack at 3:12 PM on June 02, 2010


  • BJN — 3:32 PM on June 02, 2010

    Why would I even try to draw with precision on an iPad? I’ll stick with a Wacom tablet and a powerful workstation. I don’t need Photoshop on an iPhone or iPad. Offering app software for such limited platforms cheapens the brand.
    All the pad computer technology in the world will never equal the immediacy, tactile feedback and control of a pencil on a sketch pad. $25 for a nice pad and pencils.

  • Phil Brown — 3:35 PM on June 02, 2010

    I think that you’ve cut through to an important point, John.
    At the moment, a stylus seems to be a polarizing feature – just as SJ is using it to distinguish the iPad from the competition and to have a dig (unfounded, unnecessary) at PC OSs.
    What’s far more important is supporting what is useful for the customer.
    Would I pay for a stylus and an app to support its use on a iPad? Yes. And that’s from someone who is getting an iPad even though I’m far from convinced that it will be all that useful to me (mostly, I think, my other half will be able to use it for browsing and such at home without having to get a laptop out in the loungeroom).
    I think for a high-quality, pressure sensitive stylus I’d pay in the USD50- to USD100- range and perhaps USD20- for an app to support it if it was an OS wide support somehow. Otherwise, I’d pay an extra USD5- on an app that supported it.
    Let me add that sketching isn’t the only thing that a high quality, pressure sensitive stylus is good for.
    With decent handwriting OCR, using a superior stylus would make taking notes and handwriting and conversion to type and checking digital signatures and a whole swag of other useful and desired features possible. I *really* want to be able to write on my tablet-de-jour and for it not to look like a kindergarden level scrawl. I’d pay 50% more if that functionality was offered.

  • ray — 3:37 PM on June 02, 2010

    I agree that a stylus would be useful for drawing, and would consider paying $100 for one.

  • mglickman — 3:42 PM on June 02, 2010

    The only thing stopping me from seriously considering buying the iPad is the lack of pressure-sensitivity.

  • Ken — 3:47 PM on June 02, 2010

    Hi John,
    I can see HP and Adobe with a pen type thing in 2 years or less.
    A seer in the dark
    Ken in KY

  • Corey Gilmore — 3:52 PM on June 02, 2010

    If you’ve tried to use something like a Pogo stylus for drawing on the iPad, you’re immediately disappointed – if for no other reason than what you described: pinpointing, WITH ACCURACY, where you’re about to draw. Just as there was a learning curve when I first got my Intuos tablet, there is an expected learning curve for using something like the Pogo (since I just recently purchased the stylus, I’m not sure what that curve would be).
    Regarding price, I’m assuming the pressure sensitivity is contained within the stylus? Pricing it much OVER $30-$40 would cause me to pause quite a bit.

  • Bill OBrien — 3:55 PM on June 02, 2010

    PoGo for the iPhone, kinda soft for drawing but great for large fingers trying to push small buttons.
    [I should have clarified: What I have in mind would be much more in line with the precision offered by a Wacom stylus. I found the Pogo pretty disappointing. –J.]
    Making a stylus is not difficult, something akin to a capacitive switch. Take a AA battery in your hand put one finger on the neg end and draw (lightly and carefully)wit the positive end, works every time. Should not take much to make a pencil tool without pressure sensitivity. (just money)

  • Corey Gilmore — 3:56 PM on June 02, 2010

    In thinking about my post, I’d have to say that if the stylus has the sensitivity approaching a Wacom, I wouldn’t have any trouble paying a great deal more for it.

  • Adam — 3:59 PM on June 02, 2010

    Finger, Pogo Pen, Wacom Tablet on my iMac… whatever: the secret to precision is to zoom way in.
    I’d love pressure-sensitivity though. I don’t need the full power of Photoshop when I’m sketching; Sketchbook Pro has everything I need for on-the-go ideation sketching. I could be tempted up to $100 for a good quality pressure-sensitive stylus for iPad.

  • Stu Maschwitz — 4:13 PM on June 02, 2010

    I would pay about $60 for a pressure-sensitive stylus with an actual pointy tip. I have the PogoSketch and it’s hardly worth using.

  • Alan Hess — 4:20 PM on June 02, 2010

    I know a lot of artists that would love a pen / stylus to use on the ipad. Something like the pen you get with a wacom tablet.
    I think that if you are good enough and patient enough you can do some cool things painting with a finger but for those of us who are not that talented a stylus that can be used for the drawing apps would be great. There is a reason that we have tablets and don’t just do everything with the track pad on our laptops, no matter how multi-touch enabled they are.
    As for the price… Anything over $40 would have to come with some pretty good painting / drawing software.

  • Charis Tsevis — 4:32 PM on June 02, 2010

    Enabling a stylus as an option?
    Yes! As a designer I would like to see Wacom or anyone else to develop some alternative input for iPad.
    But as others said Apple is just trying to make another “package” of technology. And for the big (non design related) masses a stylus is not what they need. It will be completely misleading.

  • Mike Skocko — 4:57 PM on June 02, 2010

    Through my training in architecture, graphic communications, and fine art — albeit in the 20th century — the stylus, in one form or another, has always played a role. I’d pay $60 for a pressure-sensitive iPad stylus.

  • David S — 5:03 PM on June 02, 2010

    I don’t think you could do it with just a stylus: there’s really no way for it to know where on the screen it is. You’re probably looking at some sort of Wacom-in-an-iPad-case type device, and I think they could easily sell them for $200 assuming reasonable (256) levels of pressure, pixel accuracy and software support. There’s of course no pen api built in, so the wacom folks would have to supply it themselves. In theory, a company wanting to do something like this could do it via the dock connector. In practice, who the heck knows.
    I definitely know people who are dying to create content on their iPads, and while $200 on top of the device is expensive, when compared to a cintiq or a bamboo its within the realm of possibilities.

  • Moose Peterson — 5:18 PM on June 02, 2010

    You bet I’d pay for it! And along with a CS5 light, it would make a whole lot of jobs even more profitable. But then, I’m a gear junky :)

  • John Derry — 5:21 PM on June 02, 2010

    Interesting thoughts, John. I’ve got just about every painting-related app for the iPad, yet I just haven’t gotten that jolt of Aha! that inspires me to use the tools in any significant way. The Pogo at least goes one step towards a stylus, but as others have said, it ultimately is a disappointment. True pressure-sensitivity could be a Holy Grail-type solution.
    On the matter of finger-based input, I’d like to see someone exploit the iPad’s multitouch capabilities and come up with a true finger painting environment—heck, it enthralled us as kids, why not on the iPad?

  • Dianne — 5:37 PM on June 02, 2010

    Yes John!
    It could be a mini Cintiq with a good deal of processing power built in. Don’t know about fitting that all in such a small space :). We could process on the patio without lugging about so much!
    Oh yes…I’d say >$700., considering the current price of the ipad.

  • Ed Wiser — 5:38 PM on June 02, 2010

    Yes a Wacom bluetooth pen is needed.
    I use the Pogo pen and would love a Wacom pen. Come on Wacom we know you want to make this.

  • Laurent — 5:47 PM on June 02, 2010

    John —
    I think that on the one hand, you’re entirely correct — there are a couple of really important reasons why people went from fingers to sticks (and other tools) pretty quickly:
    – The part of your finger tip that’s most sensitive, that you really use as the “tip”, is actually right in the center of the front pad on your finger. (Not the very “tip”.) If you use that, as you intuitively want to do for fine control, you’re directly blocking your own view with the end of your finger.
    – Using a tool, like a stick or a stylus, actually gives you a huge amount of additional fine motor control and leverage. Look at all the delicate forces you’re bringing to bear when you’ve got three bent fingers holding one brush — the angle of every single joint knuckle and every muscle in those fingers can contribute to exactly what the brush is doing.
    On the other hand, though, I think using a stylus with the iPad is probably going to expose some pretty serious issues with the design of iPad itself. For one thing, it’s got an impressive degree of accuracy when it seems to be “picking” pretty much the right pixel from the whole area of your fingerprint. Look at those tests that folks have done, though, about the touch accuracy of the iPhone, Droid, etc. Even though the iPhone wins, the detection is actually pretty wobbly and imprecise. When you’re using a big, fat breadstick, you can’t tell — when you’re using the thin tip of a stylus, I think it’s going to be a lot more apparent.
    [Interesting point/question. I don’t know if it’s related, but it sucks that (as far as I know) the iPad doesn’t give the developer info about the size of contact areas, either–just the center coordinates. That limits one’s ability to do things like enable smudging using the side of a finger. –J.]
    Also, there’s a depth perception issue that’s also masked right by the imprecision of our finger tips. You’re touching a surface that’s visibly separated from the graphics beneath it. Again, the fingertip conveniently makes that moot, by blocking it out completely. If it matters what _angle_ you’re looking at the iPad from, when you’re doing fine work with a stylus, that’s going to be annoying, too.
    [Yes, parallax is potentially a big deal–and yet I think it would be so much less painful than trying to do anything precise with one’s fingertip. –J.]
    I may be wrong on all this, but I also wouldn’t be surprised — at all — if Jobs is already _very_ aware of these issues from internal research, and that’s part of why he’s being so emphatic. Wouldn’t be the first time that a grand esthetic pronouncement happened to serve a very pragmatic tactical agenda.

  • Daniel — 6:05 PM on June 02, 2010

    This is not only a great idea, but something I have wished for for some time now. Ideally, the tablet would have:
    1) iPad-like form factor and quality display
    2) a real OS that can run an application like Photoshop / Illustrator
    3) A very accurate, pressure-sensitive screen that can use either finger or stylus input
    4) Some sort of “hover” detection that tracks finger/stylus position and movement without counting it as a “press”. This is for implementing mouse overs, link hovers, etc.
    5) Built-in camera (on a swivel to face either front or back)
    6) Support for Bluetooth keyboards, headphones, etc.
    7) USB and driver support minimally for external storage, Blu-Ray / DVD, cameras, printers and iDevices.
    If something existed like the above, and had at least 6.5 hours battery life, I would happily pay premium notebook price for it: $1500-$1800.

  • Lynn Grillo — 7:57 PM on June 02, 2010

    I like touch screens but I love stylus’ and pens, too. I use touch on my iPhone and also use a Pogo. I use an Intuos 4 from Wacom in my home office, and my travel bag has a Bamboo Pen and Touch, which, if it isn’t completely apparent, supports both pen and touch. Nary a mouse in site. I want both touch and stylus support. Always both. The was the thing I liked best about my old Palm products and I miss a good stylus.

  • Nathan McInturf — 10:48 PM on June 02, 2010

    yes, I would love to see and be willing to pay for an optional stylus.

  • Stephen — 11:12 PM on June 02, 2010

    YES, YES, YES. Pressure sensitive stylus for iPad is the way to go. But still allowing the finger to smudge, etc. With the right software I would pay whatever the manufacturer asked. It’s what I dream about !!
    Just a thought – would there be a way to enable the iPad as an input device for a desktop or laptop – in other words, to use the iPad as the Wacom tablet. That would be cool, draw on the tablet or hook it up to your main computer and you have an input device.
    Just think if the iPad could hook up to my desktop. I could then put touch sensitive menus, etc on the iPad and configure the iPad interface the way I want and still be able to use the stylus to draw with.
    The future is rosy indeed, suddenly I can see a whole new exciting future opening up …

  • Rubén — 12:03 AM on June 03, 2010

    Yes, ill pay both for and style and a sketching app for the iPad, How much?, it depends on the quality of both the stylus and the app, currently i bought a small capacitative pen for the iphone for about 3 dollars and it have the job done, it´s far from being the best tool but is enough for rough sketch.
    By the way “little” applications of the Suite, such as little photoshop, for sketching, little lightroom for photo caraloging (try imagining to be on the couch with a cold beer after a long photo session day with the iPad on my lap, panning, zooming and selecting which photos worth, would be nice), little illustrator + stylus to rough layout a page or a poster…
    To have the work done i need my big screen and mac at desktop but for thinking, sketching and collecting the assets for every project i would be much better lying on the floor with and iPad-adobe little suite and stylus!

  • MartinDoersch — 1:31 AM on June 03, 2010

    I totally agree with you.
    I never would use an iPad for retouching and “poweruser” work. I will stick at my workspace (MacBook Pro, Wacom tablet, “real”* photoshop and “real” software).
    *real… software you can use to work with professionally.

  • karl — 3:00 AM on June 03, 2010

    Maybee I buy something like this if it is for Android and Google offers some kind of useable payment option…

  • Ina — 3:15 AM on June 03, 2010

    Yes, yes, and yes, echoing all the pro reasons already cited for a pressure-sensitive stylus.
    On another note, I have an eye-hand coordination problem and have been i habe been a dedicated Pogo stylus user on both the iPhone and iPad user since both devices came out.
    I have an eye-hand coordination problem. The Wacom intuitous is awkward for me to use, and the Wacom Cintiq is a nightmarish morass of wires and bricks, making portability a joke. Thus, a pressure sensitive stylus would also aide people with vision problems.

  • Loz — 4:57 AM on June 03, 2010

    To open a door i use my hand.
    To draw i use a tool such as a pencil.
    Opening a door on the computer is like opening an application..navigating to find that doorknob..
    ya following me ? lol
    So yeh picking up a tool once ya inside is the way to go.
    Its how we went from being apes to man ya know;)
    John did you look into my problemo? i got ya email etc.

  • Hofer — 6:15 AM on June 03, 2010

    I would pay at least a few hundred extra to have pressure sensitivity for a device like the iPad. Sketchbook Pro is so amazing, it would be that much more amazing if the pressure sense was there. That isn’t to say you couldn’t do simple sketching with non-pressure sense, but like you mentioned, fine detail and other precision really requires a balanced touch.
    I’d hope that the iPad 2.0 would just include pressure sense without an additional cost and the option for a stylus as an accessory, not mandatory.
    So far we only have HP and a few others working with Wacom to bring some decent sense tech to the art realm.

  • Hofer — 6:17 AM on June 03, 2010

    I would pay at least a few hundred extra to have pressure sensitivity for a device like the iPad. Sketchbook Pro is so amazing, it would be that much more amazing if the pressure sense was there. That isn’t to say you couldn’t do simple sketching with non-pressure sense, but like you mentioned, fine detail and other precision really requires a balanced touch.
    I’d hope that the iPad 2.0 would just include pressure sense without an additional cost and the option for a stylus as an accessory, not mandatory.
    So far we only have HP and a few others working with Wacom to bring some decent sense tech to the art realm.

  • Greg Geisler — 6:39 AM on June 03, 2010

    I and many of my fellow artists waited with great anticipation when the Apple tablet rumors began floating around. We had been looking forward to an Apple tablet that was more like Motion Computing’s tablets and something that could function as a professional tool. We were sadly disappointed. I’ve been using a Motion tablet for around 6 years now. I love that I can draw in Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. directly on the screen and rotate the device or the screen display. It is a great tool but how I wish it was the Apple OS. And lighter.
    That said, the only thing that prevents me from purchasing an iPad is that lack of stylus/pressure support. Without it the iPad, to me, is simply a chunk of consumer eye candy. Add a stylus and it becomes a professional art and design tool that I can integrate into my workflow.
    So YES! Where do I place my order?

  • Ian — 6:51 AM on June 03, 2010

    I tried a carrot. It worked.
    [Crunchy! I’m sure it would go well with a South Korean meat stylus. –J.]

  • victoria piersig — 8:15 AM on June 03, 2010

    i’ve had extensive discussions with my daughter – an academic – about tablet PC’s. Although I might not be tempted by an iPad as an artist – due to it’s limitations – as a device for students it has great potential. One of my daughter’s gripes is that she longs to be able to take notes complete with diagrams and sketches – something that she cannot do with her laptop. As education providers are leaping at the opportunities the iPad provides them – notetaking with a stylus is a definite no brainer.

  • Craig — 8:23 AM on June 03, 2010

    I would not buy anything that I had to carry around and hook up – even wireless. They need to allow a stylus. If they don’t – I think a software alternative is possible and maybe something that you guys could write. All that’s really needed is a precise way to know where the pixels will be drawn when I place my finger on the screen. The problem being that I can’t see under my finger. What about an app that invoked an offset visual cursor? If I could preference the amount of offset (distance away from my finger) and maybe the pressure by adding another finger/swipe etc – even better. Does this make sense? I don’t know how well received an external tablet would be. It’s just another thing to carry around and set up. I can’t see Jorge Colombo walking around NYC with an ipad and a tablet. Too much gear.

  • Said Nuseibeh — 8:38 AM on June 03, 2010

    Hmmmm. I’m getting conflicting info on the photographic possibilities for the iPad. For a scathing analysis of the closed proprietary hooks into photos on the iPad, check out this Camera Bits letter:
    But if anyone can find a way around this mess, it’d be you, John. May the wind stay strong in your sails.
    [Thanks, Said! As for the Camera Bits letter, I look forward to working with Apple and other tablet makers to enable the solutions that photographers and artists so clearly want. –J.]

  • Corey Gilmore — 8:47 AM on June 03, 2010

    Have you tied out Axiotron’s Modbook Pro?

  • Arnon Moscona — 8:48 AM on June 03, 2010

    Yes. I would pay for it. Furthermore, i probably would not buy a device that does not support both stylus _and_ finger based multi-touch.
    If they has pressure sensitivity as well I’d pay an extra $100-150 for that feature alone.
    Until then I’ll stick with my trusty paper pad ($10 with pressure sensitivity, tilt, bearing and rotation) ;-)

  • thinsoldier — 9:32 AM on June 03, 2010

    I’d pay $500 for a Wacom quality pressure sensitive ipad-like device that can double as both an netbook in itself and a drawing tablet for my windows/mac PCs.
    I don’t expect the device to run photoshop (or elements) nor do I expect it to hook up to my mac or pc video card to be used like a cintiq.
    I’d then pay another $150 for some kind of software that’s basically a much more powerful photoshop configurator panel running on the ipad-like device.
    When holding my thumb on a corner of the device I could use the stylus to activate the MULTITUDE of custom made buttons and widgets that feed commands directly into photoshop.
    When not pressing my thumb it would work like a typical wacom tablet.
    Nack, If you’d like to hear more about this input device/software idea e-mail me.
    Even if the device wasn’t a real ipad and could only run the software for controlling photoshop I’d still page $600+ for the package.
    Think about it, you could get an old wacom with a couple nameless buttons.
    Or get an intuos 4 with 6 customizable labeled buttons.
    OR get a ipad-like device with UNLIMITED BUTTONNSSZZZZ.
    Completely customizable buttons. Buttons that can easily access tons of settings in photoshop (might require an update to photoshop to reach the level of functionality I’m dreaming of).
    Users could create their own buttons as easy as using configurator.
    With some programming skill they could create their own custom widgets.
    With NO programming skill they could re-skin the default widgets.
    (all my widgets would be pulled from SNES games!)
    Multiple default widgets for each of:
    brush transparency, brush flow, brush size, brush blending mode, toggle airbrush,
    move layer up/down, select next/previous layer, document rotation,
    layer transparency, layer blending mode,
    toggle current, previous or next layer visibility,
    color wheelS,
    … pretty much anything you hate having to target with a stylus in photoshop’s tiny UI or have to put the stylus down to do with keyboard shortcuts or the mouse!
    Think of it as taking the few innovative stylus-friendly elements of sketchbook pro(windows) AND THEN SOME to the NEXT LEVEL and beyond and putting them all on the tablet itself while the art and regular photoshop UI remains your pc monitor.

  • Greg Geisler — 11:20 AM on June 03, 2010

    I haven’t because A. it is pricey and B. is as heavy as my Motion. I’d love something as light and inexpensive as an iPad if it had the stylus support. Now if they would take my old Motion as a trade-in; absolutely! ;^)

  • gh — 12:46 PM on June 03, 2010

    Good Idea.
    Options are always good.
    Having my wacom tablet makes my desktop more – not less.
    I see no difference with a tablet devices capabilities being extended with the addition of a input device.
    I think perhaps it would be great also to utilize a wacom bluetooth tablet on a tablet device, as well as a bluetooth or other keyboard, or mouse. The tablet device(s) being dependent on such extensions would seem point of disfunction.
    As an option for the UI perhaps a precise cursor, as found in PShop,
    and maybe that gets activated by the use of a two (or other) finger pattern that does not block the visual line of sight of the user, or perhaps this is a tool from the toolbox or tool palette, which may then be guided by a single finger.

  • skyler Kline — 2:20 PM on June 03, 2010

    This is what would make it magical.
    To be able to use the same input device on mobile apps, and your desktop would bring it all together.
    Which would of course pave the way for larger tablets, etc.
    A good pressure sensitive pen would easily be worth 60-80 dollars. Especially when considering the cost of a Cintiq the same size, and the limitations it has comparatively.

  • Ben O'Connor — 12:51 AM on June 04, 2010

    So would I, but I’d equally buy CS for my big work computer +Wacom (have), and buy a “fingers-version” on iPad. Smudging pixels – handy, gradient tool – handy, clone + Heal tool – handy.
    Could operate all of those with a bread stick finger and pinch-to-zoom, would find this all very useful.

  • Nat Brown — 5:53 AM on June 04, 2010

    I live for the day that I can conveniently take the full functionality of my desktop machine/Wacom with me where ever I go. Stylus? Absolutely.
    I’d love to be in the woods, where I shoot most often, and be able to immediately try out the creative idea that comes to mind, rather than waiting until I get back to the desktop.
    When you said you were headed off to work on tablets, I assumed you’d have something for me by now.
    Get hopping!

  • Joel Eby — 10:52 AM on June 04, 2010

    If a vendor could make it happen, a Wacom-like (small tip!) pen with pressure would be awesome.
    The Pogo is way better than finger when I’m drawing, or taking notes in Penultimate. But it’s nowhere near as good as a Wacom pad on the Mac.

  • Richard — 6:57 AM on June 05, 2010

    Stylus, no. Unless you mean a pen like wacom makes. And most definitely NOT on an i-pad, I’d like to see a wacom style pen enabled on a powerful tablet.

Copyright © 2020 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy and Cookies (Updated)