In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

Summary:Just because you didn't like Samsung's commercial doesn't make the stylus any less valid.

Ahhhhhh. Superbowl. Drinking beers with your buddies. Multiple rounds of tequila shots. Ludicrous amounts of food that you'll be sorry about eating the next day. Nail biting all the way to the end of the 4th quarter with two minutes to go. This is living, right? GIANTS!!!!!!!!

And yeah, the commercials. Seriously, the game was so good this year and you people are obsessing about the stupid commercials? And then Twittering about them in real time?

Do you people even have real lives? Or real friends? You're wasting your time Twittering about commercials? Ok, I won't answer that because I probably resemble that remark.

Look, the commercials are there at best for backup entertainment if the game is awful, OK? I know the mother company isn't going to be happy with me for saying this, but the whole purpose of a commercial break during a major sporting event is for you to get up and stretch, go grab another beer and a slice of pizza, or answer a call to nature.

Possibly even all of the above.

Ok, so everyone got their panties in a twist because Samsung was arrogant enough to make fun of Apple product owners standing in line for whatever next great thing they were standing in line for.

'Lo and behold, Samsung's product has a stylus. OMG SO #1998 #PALMPILOT #ANDROIDSUX. #STEVEJOBSRULZ

First, let me say that I hadn't actually seen the advertisement until this evening because during the big game I was actually hanging out with my real friends, drinking real beer and tequila, and when the thing aired, I was probably answering a call to nature.

And yes, it was a stupid commercial and probably a waste of 10 million dollars of airtime. But that doesn't make the idea of a device with a stylus any less valid.

I don't know an awful lot about the Galaxy Note other than the fact that it runs on Android and it has a larger screen than a typical smartphone (5.3") but is smaller than a 7" or 10" tablet. So it's something of a ' tweener device. From what I've seen of it on the Superbowl commercial and product information on Samsung's web site, it has the ability for users to use a stylus to record notes in applications that support it.

Presumably the Galaxy Note is pre-loaded with built-in software that already has support for the stylus, such as a generic note-taking app and other PIM functions. As far as I know there are no generic Android API's for doing pen input or doing handwriting recognition, but who knows, Samsung may have developed a bunch for this device.

Cheeky PalmPilot jokes aside... no, hold on a minute. The PalmPilot/Palm OS platform was no joke. Millions of the units were sold by Palm and its licensees, and despite the device's limitations, it was the best electronic organizer ever designed.

Unlike modern smartphones, the batteries on black and white Palm OS units ran for WEEKS or MONTHS (or for the power-hungry color versions, days at a time) not hours.

You could get to the primary Palm OS apps for contact management and calendar and note taking within a single hardware button push.

And yes, the stylus writing aspect using the Graffiti input method took some getting used to, and eventually that was more or less replaced by a keyboard on the Palm Treo, but still, direct information retrieval and entry on the original Palm OS devices were outstandingly simple and easy compared to what we have now.

And I'm including Siri with this one. Hitting the "Calendar" button multiple times would show you instantly what your schedule looked like on a day, week or month. No voice-based assistant could possibly do that faster.

Even with all of the technical achievement we have, what, 15 years later, I still do not beleive that as an organizer we've matched or even improved on the basic functions of what the PalmPilot could do with PIM on a dinky 16Mhz Motorola Dragonball processor and its original 1MB of RAM.

The fact that there are tons of people still holding on to their Palm OS devices and refuse to give them up for iOS devices or Androids or BlackBerrys or Windows Phones is a testament to just how useful and efficient those things were.

So you can make fun of the PalmPilot all you want, but I knew the PalmPilot, the PalmPilot was a friend of mine, and you, Siri, are no PalmPilot.

Okay, back to the stylus. While I agree that touch-based applications are absolutely the way of the future, the plain and simple truth is you can't do everything by touch.

Despite what Steve Jobs may have wanted you to beleive, there are people who actually need to write stuff down -- such as doctors. For example, physicians need to write prescriptions and take notes on medical charts. And there are plenty of folks who own things like Moleskine notebooks ("Little Black Books") that just feel more comfortable writing things down than using a touch-based smartphone or a tablet.

There are other numerous other reasons why you would want to use pen input, and a lot of that has to do with either vertical-market sort of apps (such as signature required type stuff or medical as previously mentioned) or even engineering where you need to do complex mechanical drawings.

The fact of the matter is that content creation professionals need high resolution digitizers in order to do detailed drawings, and current consumer tablets such as the iPad really do not fit the bill because the digitizers are optimized for multitouch and aren't good enough for digitization at the fine-pixel level.

And at the fine-pixel level, you want to use a stylus, not your fingers. It's like the difference between fingerpainting on a piece of paper and using a fine brush on a canvas.

The current tablets aren't up to par in terms of display technology to match digitizers that sensitive, but with true HD displays coming down the pike for full-sized tablets this year, using a tablet for content creation is not out of the question.

So, I'm not saying that the Samsung device can do any of these things or is even necessarily a good product, because I haven't tried one yet. For all we know, the current applications for pen input and note taking on the Galaxy Note could be quite limited, and perhaps the company should focus its efforts on verticals and not consumers with this product.

But let's not dismiss the stylus because you didn't like the commercial.

Is the stylus still relevant in tablet computing? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Apple, Google, iPad, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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