Please kill the stylus

Samsung has misinterpreted the reason for the Note's success, and as a result are unfortunately doubling down on the stylus -- an idea that was cool in the 80s and 90s, but was supplanted by the wonders of touchscreens and gestures.

Samsung today announced it will once again unleash the stylii upon the masses. Later this month the company — who, despite Apple’s best efforts, is killing it financially – will start shipping the Galaxy Note 10.1.

At first blush the tablet looks just like the Tab 10.1 tablet.

Except for one thing: that stylus. That redundant, unnecessary, pesky little pencil-like twanger used to poke at a screen meant for… fingers!

I know what Samsung’s doing here, and who am I to second guess its incredible run building a handset business around Google’s Android. The 5-inch Note was a surprise hit. Consumers have purchased millions of the large screen “phablet” (with over 2 million selling in South Korea alone). The Note 2 will also land this month. If it worked before with the smaller screen, the thinking must go at corporate, then surely the same stylus trick will be welcomed on the larger 10-inch screen tablets.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The stylus needs to die.

In my estimation the original Note sold because of its nice, bright, large 5-inch screen. Not because of that mumbly jumbly nuisance of a nonsense known as the stylus. If you wanted something larger than a regular smartphone, but didn’t want to lug around an iPad, then the Note was goldilocks perfecto. That was the real reason it sold. Look around during your commute, on the train, the subway, that humvee in the lane next to you. How many people do you see using a stylus? (hint: this is rhetorical).

While I don’t agree there isn’t a market for a 7-inch tablet (Apple will build it as I’ve said before, and it will sell like hotcakes), I do agree with Steve Jobs when he said “they blew it” if you ever see a stylus on a mobile  device. After all, we have fingers; they make for perfectly designed pointers (thank Darwin). Better still, we usually don’t misplace fingers.

MORE: Here comes the Apple iPad Mini

Now, granted, there are niche applications — medical, architecture, design — where a stylus does make sense. But that’s not what I’m referring to when I decry the death of the stylus. I’m talking about everyday consumers… the ones like you and I who are buying an iPhone or a Nexus 7 or an iPad.

Let me ask you this. Is this the first question you ask when shopping for a mobile device:

Does it have a stylus?!

My guess is no. You and I are asking:

– What’s the price?

– How big is the screen?

– Does it run my favorite apps?

But Samsung has misinterpreted the reason for the Note’s success, and as a result are unfortunately doubling down on the stylus — an idea that was cool in the 80s and 90s, but was supplanted by the wonders of touchscreens and gestures.

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  • I genuinely disagree. Do you remember school? You made notes with a pen, or you put your fingers into ink and used that?
    I wish every day, that I could make quick sketches on my laptop as I can on paper with a pen. Even if you draw a thin line with your finger, you can’t be accurate, because your finger is hiding what you draw.

  • Daniel Smith

    I completely disagree with this. Writing, drawing is made easier with a stylus.

  • Xethaios

    And this, my kind sir, is where yyou are wrong.
    Ever type a document on a tablet, and have to go and fix a mistake you made earlier? I’m sure you have. But, have you ever done it without a physical keyboard? It’s kinda hard to get that touch just right and place the blinking cursor just where you want it, isn’t it? Now, maybe you have super-precise fingers. Maybe you can get the cursor just where you want it. The rest of us can’t.

    • The iPad doesn’t ship with a stylus. I don’t believe its sales have suffered.

      Again, I can definitely see specific applications where a stylus is helpful or even necessary — note taking being one of them — but if Samsung is looking for mainstream consumer sales, the stylus is not imho the way forward.

      • It’s not like they dumped the capacitive touchsreen in the same time. The stylus is just a nice addition, which might be useful for a lot of people. You don’t have to use it, it’s just an option. Why would anybody avoid to buy it if it has a stylus bundled? Would people stop buying ipads if they were get a stylus with it? I don’t think so. So it won’t hurt Samsung’s sale at all.

      • Xethaios

        It may not be ththe way foward, but including a stylus- even if it is a peice of junk- isn’t the way backword. Including a stylus may actually slightly- veey slightly- increase their sales with those who’ve bought one of Samsung’s Android products already. TouchWiz is kind of a pain to use.

  • geek

    Let me try this. HTF did we get to the point of killing a keyboard to type?

  • sleepit

    Enterprise adoption. For anything which requires accuracy. A Wacom digitizer is not in the same league as a capacitive touch screen. Our company has already preordered quite a few of these to replace PC-based tablets which are used by our doctors for accessing patient charts, making notes, printing documents, etc. Yes we tried an iPad..in order to make it usable by finger touch, things had to be expanded to the point that hardly any information fit on the screen. Everyone who tested it said that it just needed a stylus. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is the first non-pc-based tablet which meets these requirements.

    Enterprise adoption aside, I can hardly think of anyone I know with a tablet who hasn’t vocalized that having a stylus option would be nice. Capacitive finger-touch screens will always have accuracy limitations which do impact usability in many situations.

    I think this tablet is going to be a hit.

  • Garrett Shaw

    I also genuinely disagree. That’s what made the GNote so popular, matter of fact, that why I want one. I hate typing on the screen but accurate handwriting, can’t wait. Bring on the Stylus!

    • recompile

      Indeed. While I don’t care for Android, had I been up for an upgrade, the Galaxy Note would have been my phone of choice.

      The stylus is making a comeback. The zillions of crummy capacitive styluses flooding the market are surely a testament to that!

  • societyofosiris

    The iPad doesn’t ship with a stylus, yet companies like Targus are making a killing selling them to the iSheep who bleat for greater accuracy in such commonly found things like links, buttons, radios and drop-down menus. Unless Apple is moving to remove those features like they did Flash from the Internet experience, the Galaxy Note will reign supreme. After all, didn’t the ‘i’ in iPad stand for Internet?

    “I do agree with Steve Jobs when he said “they blew it” if you ever see a stylus on a mobile device”… Targus Group International, Inc. announced seven new accessories for the Apple(R) iPad(R), adding to its already abundant collection of items designed for the world’s most popular tablet device. The new accessories include chargers, a stand, Bluetooth keyboard and stylus with integrated ballpoint pen to suit the needs of every iPad user… I guess Apple blew it then.

  • I will buy you all pizza and beer if we still see syluses, stylii (?) on mainstream consumer devices in even just a few years. I’ve already lived the 80s. It was fun the first go around!

    • societyofosiris

      I lived through the 80’s version of the stylus and the purportedly useful handwriting software that looks much like the garbage we use every day at check-out lines.

      I would have agreed with you then about stylus needing to go away but then credit card companies saw the potential and ran with it. Soon we will be signing our deliveries with the Galaxy Note if a Canadian software company specializing in Law-enforcement, and now the delivery business, has anything to say about it. It won’t be long before Credit Card companies also see the potential and move forward with the Galaxy Note.

      Last point to make here is the latest update for the Galaxy Note giving it ICS 4.0 and the new S-Memo software which puts Photoshop to shame. I have spent a few hours working with it and refining what used to be chicken scratches on the S-Note. I no longer haul around a netbook with me and export all my designs and ideas via Kies to my now permanently docked netbook back at the office.

  • Rei

    So what if it has a stylus? At least i have the option to use it whenever i need it to make accurate drawings, equations, or to take notes quickly. Something i do everyday. Try that with you fingers.

  • I get the feeling that you have no place writing for a tech blog. All this article really informs me of, is how little you grasp the concept behind stylus input. The idea is to replace anything that you would use paper for. Taking notes, marking up the works of others, art and many the other applications of paper can all be done much faster and with no waste on a digital medium; and you would have us use finger-paint to complete these tasks? Here are a couple quotes in your article that i found particularly amusing:

    “Look around during your commute, on the train, the subway, that humvee in the lane next to you. How many people do you see using a stylus? (hint: this is rhetorical).”

    so because the software has not caught up with the hardware and platform, the stylus is useless? Or maybe its because the “everyday consumer” as you put it, doesn’t do anything of value with their equipment?

    “I do agree with Steve Jobs when he said “they blew it” if you ever see a stylus on a mobile device. After all, we have fingers…”

    because steve jobs has any idea what hes talking about what so ever?

    “Now, granted, there are niche applications — medical, architecture, design — where a stylus does make sense. But that’s not what I’m referring to when I decry the death of the stylus. I’m talking about everyday consumers… the ones like you and I who are buying an iPhone or a Nexus 7 or an iPad.”

    try quickly and legibly jotting notes or writing a letter, having it converted to editable text and saved to the cloud with your finger paint. how about the every day consumer that wants to draw a picture with a tool found in college not in kinder-garden. everyday consumers are buying the sans stylus devices that you listed because the software necessary to support stylus input is in its infancy.

    I dream of a world where paper is only used to wipe your butt and tablets are on their way to accomplishing this in my lifetime. Without a stylus, a tablet is just a toy or “toylet” if you will. Tablets like the ipad and nexus 7 can do video, read books, email, web(poorly via on screen keyboard) and play games. The keyboard will always have its place, its called a desk. On the go, to get anything of value (productivity, work, literature and art) done quickly, a stylus is absolutely vital. By the way, the galaxy series phones and tablets are not the only kids on the block that are getting stylus. Many windows 7 tablets have stylus and many windows 8 tablets will be getting them, including the microsoft surface. Now granted, windows 8 is going to flop hard; if the evidence to support your case is the lemmings argument, you are sorely mistaken. Just give it time, it wont be long before the stylus is synonymous with the tablet once again.

  • recompile

    I couldn’t agree more! The naysayers must have missed how the invention of finger-paints completely killed off the paintbrush.

    How about how the typewriter destroyed the market for the pencil? (For those who don’t know, a pencil is like a stylus but when you drag it over a writable surface, it makes a physical mark. Archaic, I know!)

    I mean, who doesn’t love zooming in on everything when they use their tablet? All that pinching! It’s way cooler than using a precision tool like some kind of ape!

  • For your sake, I hope your intuition regarding the demise of the stylus is stronger than your prediction regarding Note 2’s release.

    As a marketer, it’s surprising that you seemed to have drank the Apple kool-aid with the premise that if Apple doesn’t do it, then it must be wrong.