Why the iPad desperately needs a stylus

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The iPad needs a boost when it comes to content creation. An Apple stylus is just the tool to help.
The iPad needs a boost when it comes to content creation. An Apple stylus is just the tool to help.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The case has clearly been made that a stylus should never be a device’s main method of input. Fingers prevail for everyday uses, especially revolving around content consumption. But isn’t it possible that in some cases an iPad stylus might enhance the experience?

If you’ve been keeping up with Apple news over the years, you know it’s difficult to read recent rumors about an Apple stylus for the iPad without thinking back to the strong negative feelings Steve Jobs expressed about the input devices.

At the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, Jobs joked about including a stylus as the input method for the new device. “Who wants a stylus?” he said. “You have to get them and put them away and you lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus, so let’s not use a stylus.”

The iPhone killed the competition by putting touch at the center of the user experience. Yet some years later, we arrive at numerous reports that a stylus could accompany a larger iPad Pro when it debuts (possibly at tomorrow’s big iPhone 6s event). Patents also indicate Apple is interested in handwriting recognition, extensive sensor arrays and even texture-sensitive technology that could put a whole new spin on the stylus.

Jobs didn’t just say that a device should never need a stylus, he very bluntly said it’s over if you even see one. And yet it looks like we’re about to see one. The latest whispers suggest the stylus might be totally optional, but either way it represents a change in Apple’s philosophy.

What’s hampering content creation?

Over the years, Apple has tried to push content creation on the iPad as well, releasing apps like GarageBand and iMovie to open up creative possibilities. Content creation never really caught on the way Apple wanted it to.

Most people attribute this failure to one of three reasons:

  • The iPad is too small.
  • The iPad doesn’t have an ideal input method.
  • The iPad’s software isn’t good enough for creative purposes.

If the rumors about a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with an optional stylus are true, Apple would be able to tackle all of those issues.

iPadmini3
Are current iPads too small for content creation?
Photo: Apple

Too small

A 12.9-inch iPad, as bulky as it sounds, would increase screen real estate that is crucial for creative purposes. While movies and TV shows would look bigger, the entertainment perks seem more theoretical than practical.

But for content creation, the bigger size would be a game-changer. There’d be more room to write, draw and multitask.

Touch is not ideal for content creation

Another problem is the input method. When Jobs went on and on about how touchscreen devices shouldn’t need styluses, he was neglecting content creation. It turns out humans are better at creating things when we have tools.

We use pens to write, paintbrushes to paint and physical tools to build things. Our hands and fingers generally don’t do much in the way of creation (aside from finger-painting), and that seems to carry over to the iPad. There are styli available now, but they don’t benefit from Apple’s marketing power or signature design.

Weak software

The matter of the iPad not having good enough software could actually get resolved once the larger iPad and stylus fall into place. Since a stylus would get a marketing push with creativity at its core, developers would be more willing to develop apps that enable users to create a wealth of content for both work and play.

Currently, very few apps are designed specifically for stylus use. Some people have been able to create fantastic things, but a glaring imbalance between creation and consumption apps remains.

The iPad’s creative conundrum

Here’s the problem I have with my iPad right now. It’s terrific for content consumption — better than my MacBook in a number of areas — but I don’t feel like I can create much of anything on it. I own several styli for my iPad. They work well for specific creative purposes, but not many apps take advantage of stylus use at the moment.

So I use my MacBook to type things out and then end up staying there for consumption, too: videos, music, photos and sometimes even games. It’s not as good for media consumption as the iPad, but it’s perfectly adequate — or at least enough so that I don’t need to switch devices all the time. One fits the bill and it’s my Mac.

Changing this is key to driving the iPad’s future success. The iPad’s great for content consumption but it needs to become just as good for content creation. Even further, it has to be as good for creation as a laptop.

Some argue this isn’t possible, but with a larger display and a handy tool supposedly in the works, I say it’s already on the horizon.