The use of stylus on tablets is currently limited but the tool can become more popular as more apps are developed for the technology.
Touchscreen devices differ in past and present The stylus was popular in the days of personal digital assistants (PDAs). Now, tablet manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC are pushing the stylus and its writing capability as an extra feature of their devices. Saadi pointed out the stylus today is different from those in the past. He noted that the stylus in the past was used with resistive touchscreens devices such as PDAs. Resistive touchscreen technology could only work when used with a stylus and did not have multi-touch capabilities so users could not zoom in or out, he explained. Today, it is more common to find capacitive touchscreen technology being used which enables users to interact with the screen using their fingers as the human body is an electrical conductor, he said. As the old stylus is not an electrical conductor, they are not able to interact with modern capacitive touchscreen, he said. Thus users will need a special capacitive stylus to work with new tablets.
Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said the stylus is currently mainly used for precision drawing on capacitive touchscreens. However, he noted that the stylus could become popular among professionals as a method of taking notes or drawing diagrams at conferences.
For the adoption of stylus to take off, Saadi said developers will have to create apps that tap into the stylus as an input. For example, the app can interpret the user's drawing of two dots and a curvy line as a smiley face and turn that into digital print. He added that as handwriting recognition technology matures, so will the adoption of stylus.
Ivy Chen, chief product manager at recognition technologies provider Taiwan-headquartered PenPower Technology, agreed. She believes touchscreen devices with handwriting recognition features will have an edge, as the current input method by virtual keyboard is not smooth.
Users are now familiar with typing on a real keyboard but "it's neither easy nor smooth to type with a virtual keyboard on a mobile device screen", Chen said.
Asian language input could drive stylus adoption She added handwriting as an input is easier for Asian languages compared with typing on a keyboard.
Using the Chinese language as an example, she said the written form is not composed of alphabets and the characters have different pronunciations depending on dialect. This means handwriting is the easiest way of input, she said, adding the company has been developing handwriting recognition technology from 21 years ago.
However, Saadi said it is still too early to predict if stylus can replace the keyboard as a major input device for tablets, especially as the majority of tablets are used more for content consumption than for productivity.
Singapore-based designer Max Yam is among those using the stylus for drawing. He explained it feels "more normal" to draw with a stylus on tablet as it functions like a pen, than a mouse with a laptop.
However, Yam said that the stylus he owns is not as sensitive so it is not very easy for him to write on the tablet unless it is in large writing.