Does Apple's Pencil Mean the Stylus Is Back? Nope. It Never Left

Why Apple Adopted the Stylus and Brought Microsoft Aboard
  • The new device threatens makers of alternative models
  • Better screens make the Pencil less 'yuck' than high tech

Remember how Steve Jobs mocked the idea of a stylus back in 2007 when launching the first iPhone? After Apple Inc. introduced its new stylus -- er, Pencil -- Wednesday in San Francisco, much of the Internet remembered, dredging up Jobs’ assessment: "Yuck."

And now that Apple has introduced its version, the thinking goes, the stylus is back, right? Not exactly, because it never really went away.

The $99 Apple Pencil joins a host of devices from smaller companies that cater to tablet users who want a tool much more precise than their fingers for design and note taking. And Samsung Electronics Co. has offered a stylus for its business-focused Note smartphones since their introduction in 2011, while Sony Corp. offers one to go with its Xperia devices.

Sure, Jobs insisted the iPhone heralded the death of the pointy plastic stick used to jab at contacts on Palm Pilots. “Who wants a stylus?" he said at the event eight years ago. "You have to get them out and put them away and you lose them. Yuck.”

Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said Wednesday that the Pencil is meant to be paired with the massive-screened iPad Pro. The stylus will let users draw and write with greater precision, discerning between heavy, darker strokes and lighter, finer lines, the company said.

The device is a way to re-energize the iPad, which has seen unit sales decline for six straight quarters, by boosting its appeal to professionals in design, media and health care.

Sharp Jab

That puts the giant from Cupertino into direct competition with the makers of those other models. The likes of Adonit’s Jot Script ($75), Moshi Corp.’s Stanza Duo ($35) and FiftyThree Inc.’s Pencil ($40-$50) will now face direct competition from Apple’s own accessory.

Though Apple’s device is one of the more expensive options on the market, it’s "a more powerful tool than many of the dumb stylus alternatives," Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at researcher IHS, wrote in a note.

Apple’s change of heart shows how far touch screens have advanced. A decade ago, the stylus was a symptom of unresponsive screens that needed a good, sharp jab. While fingers suffice for much of what people do with today’s more-sensitive screens, a stylus can take advantage of the advancing technology and open up new uses, said Ronan de Renesse, an analyst at Ovum in London.

Early screens “wouldn’t actually pinpoint exactly where your finger is, so you’d need something a bit thinner,” de Renesse said. With the Pencil “you can use actual pixels to do drawings, which is unbelievable.”

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