Anyone who’s toted around a recent Microsoft Surface device knows this: Styluses and digital pens tend to disappear. A new Universal Stylus Initiative, released today, aims to make their replacement as painless as possible. That's a nice idea, but the companies with the most pen-friendly products—Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung—have yet to sign on.
The Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) establishes a cross-device specification for digital pens and styluses, including those found in the Surface line, Galaxy Note smartphones, and others. The goal is for one stylus to be usable on any touchscreen device, or for multiple styluses to be usable with a single device.
The USI believes its specification will establish a baseline that goes beyond the capabilities of today’s devices. Active pens will be able to do more than just sense pressure and erase ink. Future-looking features include tilt-and-twist capabilities, the ability to measure motion in nine different ways, and airbrush functionality. Personalized ink settings would be maintained across devices, the USI claims. A USI spokesman said that up to 4,096 levels of e-ink pressure are supported.
Why this matters: We don’t stop to think whether a specific keyboard will work with a Toshiba or a Dell PC, or whether a microUSB charger will power a phone. The USI hopes to bring this same freedom of pen input to tablets, smartphones, and other digital devices. Approximately 259 million tablets will ship in 2016 according to Gartner, most with an active stylus. According to the USI’s vision, you won’t need to use the stylus that the manufacturer provides. You’ll be able to keep a generic stylus right next to your mouse and keyboard—and it will just work with whatever device you connect it to.
We’re always losing the Surface Pens.
Who’s in, who’s not
The problem is that, for now, the products and manufacturers that come to mind when you think of digital pens—the Apple iPad, the Microsoft Surface, and the Samsung Galaxy Note line—haven’t yet joined the USI.
Most industry standards are set by the IEEE, or by another, neutral standards organization. The USI, meanwhile, is a collection of PC and component makers. The organization charges $15,000 per year for “promoter” status, and smaller amounts that confer fewer privileges, such as the actual approval of the proposed specification and future updates. Nevertheless, the USI has attracted the support of Dell, Intel, HP and Sharp, as well as key touchscreen vendors like Synaptics and Wacom.
A list of USI members. More are being added, according to USI.
PC makers say they see the USI spec as a way for active pens to become pervasive, adding another way to interact with the PC.
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