Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is out with a new report suggesting Apple will launch a stylus in a few months alongside a new, larger 12.9-inch "iPad Pro." Judging by the sheer volume (over 30+) of patents for a stylus going back to the iPad launch, I don't think the question has ever been about whether or not Apple has been working on such a device, but instead if Apple would ever release such a product. Would a stylus receive one of Apple's rare "yes" votes and make it to the marketplace?
A quick glance at Apple's patents for what I call the "Apple Pen" would suggest that such a device is not simply a stylus used to draw on an iPad, but a comprehensive solution for reinventing the modern-day writing instrument. Apple would be reinventing the pen. The use cases are broad and extensive:
- Enterprise. There are many situations in the corporate world in which a keyboard is not appropriate for taking notes. Whether it is used during a formal board meeting or a quick brainstorming session, a laptop often hinders discussion and interaction. In that same vein, an iPad doesn't offer any additional benefits and very often makes it even harder to record notes or thoughts. Instead, paper and pen continue to be utilized (or third-party styli with iPads) because it is much easier to record notes and thoughts in free-form on paper or a tablet. An Apple Pen would find a nice fit in this type of setting. Additionally, if the Apple Pen can be used to capture information such as distance, shape, texture, and angles, the implications expand into many different industries such as industrial and into various commercial settings from Fortune 500 companies to independently owned and operated businesses.
- Education. Obvious implications for an Apple Pen would include taking notes, but deeper applications involve content creation in the arts and sciences including math, chemistry, physics, and biology, where a keyboard (or finger) is less effective than a fine point writing instrument. As Chromebooks gain ground in education, a touch-screen device with an accompanying smart pen would stand out as adding to the classroom not only utility, but also new forms of creativity and imagination.
- Consumer. Imagine tasks for which a pen and paper are still used such as creating shopping lists and writing letters. In each of these cases, a smart pen can increase utility.
I still have more questions than answers regarding an Apple Pen. How much would an Apple Pen cost? Would the device be initially compatible with just an iPad Pro in order to boost sales of the device, or would the smart pen work with any iOS device? How many functions would such a device include in the first version?
I see an Apple Pen being positioned not only to replace the modern-day pen, but also to serve as a new way to gather and input data. I can see an Apple Pen eventually work without the need for even an iPad or iPhone as a screen isn't necessary to capture data. As sales of third-market devices show, there is already demand for a stylus. An Apple Pen would eventually be positioned as a device that we can't imagine living without. In reference to competing products that came with a stylus, Steve Jobs once said, "if you see a stylus, they blew it." He was right. An Apple Pen wouldn't be a stylus. It would be a data collector and interpreter that just happens to take quick notes and drawings on a screen.
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