AMITIAE - Wednesday 25 February 2015

Pencil by Fifty-Three: Bluetooth Stylus for the iPad (Bangkok Post, Life)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

ULife columns

When Steve Jobs was CEO of Apple he was often right, but he was sometimes wrong. At the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, he was dismissive of the stylus used with many phones. He also later dismissed the idea of a smaller tablet computer, although this may have been to put some off the scent. Jobs said that the finger was the best pointing device for touchscreen input.

And then something wonderful happened. First, users were allowed web apps on the iPhone; then the app store arrived and the landscape changed totally. The apps that were developed and the uses to which iPhones were put, caught many, including Apple, by surprise. As more types of apps appeared, so the device evolved. Despite subdued applause for the "breakthrough Internet device" at that 2007 event, non-phone uses have become its greatest strength.

Many apps for photography appeared, and some realised that the device could be used for graphics too. One was the English artist, David Hockney, who produced many works for his friends using Brushes, an app that was featured at the iPad announcement. Last week (15 Feb) an exhibition of Hockney's output using Brushes on the iPad opened at the Salts Mill Gallery, Saltaire, Bradford.

Stylus Display For some months there have been rumours that Apple is developing a stylus for touchscreen devices. Part of the evidence includes patents awarded to Apple. Several sites show details of the filings.

I did look for the Wacom Bamboo stylus several months ago, but was unable to find this in Bangkok; and Wacom ignored my inquiry. It is available now. There was also much interest when the iPad app, Paper by 53, was updated and the developer released a stylus, appropriately named Pencil. This was initially available only in the USA but in mid-2014 was released for worldwide sales.

While I have not seen Pencil here, it is in the Apple store for the USA and also on Amazon. I ordered one a couple of weeks ago. There are three options: Gold, Walnut and Aluminum. The Walnut version has magnets inside so that it can be attached to devices. It is priced at $59.95 (1952 baht) as is the Gold version. The Aluminum one is slightly cheaper at $49.95 (1616 baht). With shipping and a deposit for import fees that came to 3377 baht, although 854 baht of the import charge was refunded.

Pencil by 53

The stylus, shaped like a flat carpenter's pencil, came in a neat tubular carton that reminded me of the packaging for the Glif iPhone tripod mount. Inside were the stylus, spare stylus tip and eraser; and a small manual. It arrived in my office when I was with a colleague who has an iPad mini.

Pencil by 53

His eyes lit up and he took it from me, immediately going to work on his iPad. I later tried on the iPhone and in its initial state it works like a normal capacitive stylus: acting as a conductor and transmitting electricity from the fingers to the tip.

Pencil is also Bluetooth capable and pairs easily when touched to the stylus icon in the Paper toolbar. When paired, the tip is pressure sensitive and the top of the stylus acts as an eraser.

Pencil by 53

As the Bluetooth unit needs a charge it has a rechargeable battery that uses a pull-out USB connector. 53 suggest 90 minutes for a charge that should last a month.

Pencil by 53 Pencil by 53

Pencil by 53 - USB Charging (charged on right)

Pencil will also pair with other apps if the developers have included the SDK for this. A video on YouTube shows that Procreate and Noteshelf work in this way. There are detailed and nicely-designed web pages (showing how such pages should be created) on the Fifty-Three site.

While using the stylus, I found I was applying considerable pressure, although experience will change this. Tips will wear out, but these can be replaced. 53 also warns that the eraser will eventually wear out too.

Pencil by 53
Trying out Brushes in Paper on iPad - Pairing icon on the Left

As I was writing this, Jim Dalrymple on The Loop put out a note about the new Astropad which works on the iPad and the Mac: drawing on the iPad is displayed on the Mac's screen. The app is already on the App Store and I downloaded the Mac version directly. On the Mac it opens with a video which makes it clear it is able to use different types of stylus. The one from 53 is shown as "coming soon."

There is a 7-day free trial with no restrictions like watermarking. The cost is shown as $49.99 and there is educational pricing. It recognised the iPad app when I started that and asked for permission to connect. I was able to work on the iPad but see input on the Mac screen. I tried it with ArtRage as well as some other graphics applications. Input on the iPad went right onto the Mac version: impressive.

Astropad on iPad and Mac
Astropad on iPad and Mac

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Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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