On Tuesday startup FiftyThree released a piece of hardware called Pencil, an iPad stylus, as a companion to the company's application, Paper. The real news, though, is that this is not your cousin's stylus and it's nothing like using your finger. By Tuesday morning raves were pouring in from numerous techie sites saying that Pencil is a new chapter in working with tablet and tool, and there is no looking back.
John Ikeda, one of the designers, emphasized that the Pencil was much more than an alternative finger. Pencil is to be used, well, as a pencil. No special buttons to press. You use one side of the Pencil to draw. You simply flip it to use the other side to erase, or to white out design elements in a painting, like making white dots, or whatever you need to do when using a real eraser.
Sensitive electronics components enable Pencil to do its tasks and it is also tooled with Bluetooth. The engineering team crafted a device that also features palm rejection. This is a technology that "ignores" a resting palm on the surface. The user's actions with Pencil remain in control with no external interruptions from the action of the palm.
Overall, kitted out with smart electronics, and used in conjunction with Paper, Pencil is not passive. While Pencil along with Paper on an iPad leverages the Pencil's smart capabilities, Pencil can also be used as a passive stylus with any app.
Strokes, Blends, Angles
Writing and drawing are actions that are fun for casual users but are serious support tools for engineers, academics, scientists, and marketing/advertising creatives. FiftyThree aims to tap into this market, with solutions for writing and drawing. The side of the top can deliver broader strokes, and the fingers can become additional tools for creating a liquefying, blending effect as well. The device is sensitive to how hard you press down or what angle you use for drawing nuances.
No matter what stage we advance to in a digital age, there remains a fundamental need for a utensil in hand for writing, drawing, sketching, doodling, and just plain thinking. FiftyThree CEO Georg Petschnigg and team say the Pencil supports thinking with your hands.
The lithium-polymer battery will last a month under normal use and can be recharged on any USB port in under 90 minutes. The device comes in a walnut outer shell for $59.95 or a graphite version for $49.95, and it goes on sale today from the company Web site.
FiftyThree, with offices in New York and Seattle, was founded in 2011. Pencil is the company’s first hardware product. Paper, its first product, is a sketchpad-style application that won the Apple 2012 iPad App of the Year. Paper has been downloaded about 8 million times.
A Stylus Rethink
"Rethinking tools for creation is at the core of what we do at FiftyThree," according to the company. And the stylus rethink that has gone into Pencil could inspire further attention to what a smart, feature-rich stylus might do for the tablet. Great hardware tools and software to support them could drive widespread adoption of writing using digital devices.
An article titled "Pointing the Way: Designing a Stylus-driven Device in a Mobile World" by Benjamin A. Lieberman, PhD, principal architect for BioLogic Software Consulting, points to the possibilities ahead in an increasingly mobile computing environment.
Fortunately, he said, a number of application developers have begun to direct attention toward stylus support. "Going forward, application developers will improve on the past and find novel ways to use the stylus, leading to wider adoption in the marketplace," he added.