Apple iPad & Samsung Galaxy Note – The Great Stylus Debate

I have seen both sides now, and still somehow, I have stylus illusions, after all.

Steve Jobs was adamant – “This,” he would say holding up his index finger, “is my stylus.”

Steve had seen Microsoft’s TabletPC’s as well as Pocket PC’s, Palm Pilots, etc., and he wasn’t impressed with the styli that he had seen tethered to them. In fact, he hated the dependency that those designs had on such an easily misplacable accessory. Steve vowed that the iPad would never need one.

However, the finger as a writing instrument leaves a bit to be desired. It works…but it isn’t optimal, and people don’t write their best or most legibly with just their index finger. It doesn’t offer the fine point or accuracy that some writing or notations really require.

Microsoft’s TabletPC’s have a truly wonderful pen experience. With the right handwriting recognition software, their Pocket PC’s and later Windows Mobile devices (prior to Windows Phone) also had a truly awesome handwriting experience. I really miss this at times…even today.

I have both an Apple iPad and a Windows 8 TabletPC (netbook). I’ve owned many a PocketPC and have used Phatware’s Calligrapher on nearly all of them. The experience was really very satisfying.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note is a tablet/handheld hybrid that attempts to bridge the gap between the two device types; and while the writing experience may be just as satisfying as my Windows 8 TabletPC or the PocketPC’s of old, it does bring up a huge question:

How do you satisfy end user needs to use their tablet or handheld as a digital notepad?

Further, how do you REALLY give them the ability to take handwritten notes in meetings without having to awkwardly hover your hand over the screen so nothing but a compassative stylus touches the screen?

From Apple’s perspective, the design question remains. How do you do all that without killing the current user experience; and requiring the use of a passive stylus to do all screen touch and navigation?

The answer is in there…somewhere, but the issue has yet to be resolved. I want to take handwritten notes. I want to use digital ink, so I can save a tree, and use my tablet as the digital notepad it was intended to be. However, I want to be able to swap between passive and compassative modes on the fly. There are times when I’d rather touch with my finger than with a stylus. The technology doesn’t exist yet where the iPad oror even the Samsung Galaxy Note, can distinguish between the two. The Galaxy Note comes close, but the stylus free experience isn’t as fluid as the stylus-based experience…and then (Steve’s standard complaint) what happens when you lose the stylus (and at some point, you likely will)?

This is the great debate. This is the enterprise issue that has yet to be resolved. There are many executives who would drop their PC’s in a heartbeat for a tablet if they could do this with their iPad or an Android tablet. I would, at the office at least.

Apple doesn’t want to kill the user experience. The right technology doesn’t currently exist to allow for a combined experience. The right solution has yet to be identified, but its sure to be interesting no matter what it is.

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