I was talking with a source who works at an Apple Store recently about the patents the company keeps filing for a stylus. This source mentioned something in passing that suddenly made me think, “Wow, a pen-like stylus for iPad and iPhone 6 could end up being a huge seller for Apple.”
Most people — especially Apple users — think a stylus would be a rubbish idea. Apple founder Steve Jobs famously hated the stylus device. “As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead,” he once said (even though Apple once marketed a Newton touchpad that came with a stylus).
But Apple has filed two patents for a stylus recently, and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple will launch a stylus accessory in Q2 2015 for a new new, larger iPad.
Do people actually want a stylus for their phones or iPads? I asked my source.
“I probably speak to about three people a day who want one,” my source replied.
These are Apple customers walking into Apple stores. Multiply those three people across Apple’s 454 stores, and then multiply that by 365 days per year. You get 497,130 people worldwide who think Apple already sells a stylus and want to buy one. Now add to that all the people who want a stylus but already know that there is no stylus, so they don’t ask.
“It’s mainly … graphic designers, etc., and business users”
OK, so my maths is wildly speculative. That’s not the point. There is unmet demand for a device that helps people use their screens in a more defined, detailed way, my source says.
“It’s mainly older people and [for] typing or graphic designers, etc., and business users.” My source is sceptical:”I have to explain [to customers] how it’s like reverting back to one-finger typing.”
But note that the source mentions “graphic designers” and “business users.”
By amazing coincidence, Apple’s new partnership with IBM is also about exactly that: Creating hundreds of custom business enterprise apps for companies who want their staff to manage their work or their sales accounts on iPads.
I have seen these apps. And while they are designed like regular Apple apps — so there is no staff learning curve — they are more detailed and have more stuff going on inside them than, say, Apple’s weather app. Store inventory or medical records can be stored in them, for instance.
You can see how these apps might benefit if staff were able to poke data into them with a pen rather than with a finger. In business, you absolutely do NOT want fat-finger errors — and a stylus could reduce that. Reducing data entry errors by even 1% across a workforce of 100,000 staff would be a major productivity breakthrough at most companies.
You can’t use an iPad if your work requires gloves
In work situations, iPads are likely to get used by staff wearing gloves. Any employee working outside, in healthcare or food service, wears gloves to work. You can’t really use a phone or an iPad with gloves on. Suddenly, a stylus for enterprise apps makes a lot of sense.
On the graphic design side, a stylus would have the added benefit for Apple of killing off one of the few hardware advantages Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 still has over iPhone 6 Plus. As I’ve noted before, the Samsung Galaxy Note stylus is a joy to use. If you have ever seen an artist or designer sketching with one, you will recognise instantly how useful it could be. It turns your phone into a sketch book that’s better than a sketchbook because it comes with a limitless array of pens, pencils and paint brushes.
It’s also a lot of fun. Give one to a child and you’re guaranteed an hour or more of silence.
Bottom line: Making a stylus accessory would be easy and Apple’s customers already want them.
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