Unlike the mouse and keyboard, which can be used with just about any PC or laptop thanks to standards such as USB, the active stylus is typically designed for use only with its intended companion device. But the Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) organization is penning ways to break the barriers of the proprietary stylus tied to a particular device.
In 2014, Intel realized the active stylus marketplace had opportunity to grow while improving end-user experience and driving down costs for manufacturers. At the Intel Developer Forum 2014, Intel met with OEM and touch hardware vendors to create an initiative to bring ubiquity to styluses. Along with Intel, they formed what is now the Universal Stylus Initiative. Current participants of the initiative include Lenovo, Synaptics, Wacom, Atmel, Pentech, Sharp, Silicon Integrated Systems, Waltop, Dell, EETI, ELAN, FocalTech Systems, Primax, Weida Hi-Tech, Solid Year, with more expected to join.
At a recent meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, members of USI agreed upon portions of the 0.3 version of the technical specification, which standardizes features such as a common discovery mechanism and packet formats to communicate inputs like pressure or button presses.
“If a user bought a Microsoft Surface Pro with a stylus, a Samsung Galaxy tablet with stylus, a Lenovo ThinkPad with a stylus, they all will have a stylus that will only work with that device,” explains Arvind Kumar, senior principal engineer within Intel’s client computing group (CCG) and technical session chair of USI. “USI will create an industry standard that will allow any pen/stylus manufacturer to make a universal stylus that will work with all USI compatible devices.”
Kumar asserts the stylus is gaining traction as an input device. He equates a touch interface to a mouse where users can pick and choose, drag and drop items on a display. A stylus, on the other hand, is more of a keyboard replacement. Kumar believes someday soon you will be able to write your password using a stylus rather than relying on a virtual or physical keyboard.
“Writing is becoming a first-class experience,” explains Kumar. “You simply can’t write with your finger.”
Kumar outlines three areas to create a successful active stylus ecosystem: the experience must be better; there must be universal interoperability; and there must be robust application and operating system support.
“We want to make sure that we enable the best handwriting and touch experience on our platforms,” says Kumar. “We want users to have a fluid and flowing natural writing experience. We are doing part of this with Intel Precise Touch technology on our platforms. Interoperability is another aspect of the usability. We are leveraging the initiative to solve this problem. This will lead to a greater adoption of styluses in the market. It will lead to a greater number of writing applications.”
Evolving the stylus
The active stylus differs from a traditional or passive stylus. Passive styluses are electrically conductive, do not have battery power, and merely act like a fine-tipped finger, while active styluses typically have battery power, may have additional functions tied to buttons, can transmit pressure and other information, and be extremely precise.
“We would like to make ourselves useful in establishing a meaningful environment in which customers and users can freely manipulate digital pens on mobile devices to do creative things very casually,” says Nobutaka Ide, vice president of Wacom’s technology solution marketing. “Computers were manipulated by keyboards and mice, but creative professionals have been heavily relying on pen to unleash their creativity on PCs for their works. The same applies to mobile devices. Touch control is available on mobile devices, but finger touch is only good for selecting icons or consuming content.”
End users desire a more ubiquitous approach where an active stylus or pen would work on multiple systems regardless of the manufacturer, says Kumar. Similarly, there is a desire by the stylus industry for broader penetration, which requires a collaboration and agreement by manufacturers, according to Kumar.
“As the IT industry and customers’ ability to manipulate their devices mature, we believe the stylus, the most intuitive tool in human history, is about to gain momentum rapidly among mobile products,” says Ide. “To facilitate digital pen’s penetration, industry collaboration is vitally important, and we think the Universal Stylus Initiative can support it.”
This content was originally published on the Intel Free Press website.