The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phone/tablet hybrid, announced today, has two accessories everybody’s talking about: A BlackBerry-like keyboard case (optional) and the newest version of the Galaxy Pen, its stylus.
Some might argue it’s a step backward: Didn’t Steve Jobs famously say “If you see a stylus, they blew it?” Didn’t the Apple iPhone shepard in an era of all-touchscreen-everything?
Jobs was ahead of his time. We’re just not ready for an all-touchscreen future, at least not yet. And until then, the stylus and the physical keyboard have a long life ahead of them.
With a stylus, people get a finer degree of control over whatever they’re doing. As we use our smartphones more and more for productivity, a stylus is the next best thing to a mouse when you’re on the go — it’s all about that fine-tuned pointing.
The Note 5 does some nifty tricks with its updated Galaxy Pen. My favourite bit is how merely removing the stylus while the phone is asleep puts it into a note-taking mode, where you can just scribble whatever you’d like on the blank screen. I’m demonstrating it in the picture above.
The stylus combines two things that you can only get when you have a tablet that is tightly integrated with a device:: The physical aspect of removing the pen triggers that mode; and the physical stylus itself lets you jot handwritten notes.
Personally speaking, I’m starting to love taking handwritten notes on my Windows 10 tablet with a stylus, and I’m willing to wager that the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, if and when it’s announced, will come with some stylus features too.
A Samsung spokesperson even told me that some big smartphone gamers dig the Galaxy Pen, because it gives them finer control in mobile games.
This is something Nintendo has long recognised with its Nintendo DS, 3DS, and Wii U video game systems, all of which feature touchscreens with stylus input.
The keyboard is, ultimately, a matter of taste. But it, too, speaks to frustrations with autocorrect and the lack of feedback in many touchscreen keyboards.
Ultimately, history has mostly vindicated Steve Jobs in a big way — touchscreens have taken over the world, just like he imagined, and the most popular smartphones and tablets — the iPhone and iPad — don’t ship with a stylus. But we’re not all the way there yet, and there’s plenty of people who still value their physical accouterments.
It’s something even Apple has come to recognise, organizationally speaking. The next-generation iPad is rumoured to ship with a stylus. It’s just how people like getting work done.
In the meanwhile, companies like Apple and Google are looking ahead at what comes next. Google’s Project Soli is a hyper-sensitive motion tracker that has the potential to make it a lot easier to interact with mobile devices. Apple, for its part, has been filing patents for things like keyboards with a built-in touchpad.
Maybe soon, the full breadth of Jobs’ vision will be upon us, and we’ll have interfaces for input that are just as good as any physical accessory. But until then, no, seeing a phone or tablet with a stylus definitely does not mean that they blew it.
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