Apple Planning Graphics Pen, New Input Devices?

Patent filings by Apple point to interest in input devices. Which markets are they likely to go after?
Posted February 7, 2011

David Needle

Recent patent filings by Apple reveal that the company may be developing a graphics pen for the iPad and researching other advancements in user interface and input technologies.

The website Patently Apple recently detailed recent patent filings by Apple related to a graphics pens and touch displays that could be used for the iPad. The news follows the website's report last July on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) being granted a patent related to a graphic tablet system that could extend to the iPad.

Apple did not return a request for comment and the company has a long-standing policy of not commenting on unannounced products or its research. CEO Steve Jobs made fun of pen input for smartphones at the launch event for the iPhone back in 2007, noting they can be awkward to use and easily lost. But now that Apple has firmly established the benefits of fingertip touch input on its devices, it could be time to revisit the benefits of pen input for certain applications.

"Now that the iPhone and iPad are well-established, Apple can feel pretty secure about talking about pen input opening up additional functionality, which is certainly true," Roger Kay, analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates," told "There'd be a certain irony of course since Microsoft's been screaming about the benefits of pen input for years. Nice head fake by Apple."

iPhone developer Tony Bove said it makes perfect sense for Apple to expand the tools it can offer to creative professionals, one of the company's strongest markets.

A killer iPad graphics studio?

"You can only guess at what Apple's likely to do, but a key benefit would be the ability to use different brush strokes when painting on the iPad, so you wouldn't have to select brush strokes, the software would just recognize what you want to do by the amount of pressure you apply. That would be very intuitive and it's just what artists already do with a real brush when they're painting," Bove told

Another scenario Bove mentioned is pairing a MacBook Air with an iPad and stylus. "You draw on the iPad and all the software you need to refine it is on the MacBook Air," said Bove. "That would be a killer graphics studio. Right now you have graphic artists and creative departments using desktop Macs with specialty graphic tablets, but that can be really clunky."

Patently Apple's Jack Purcher said in his post that there are plenty of reasons to think Apple will introduce a stylus or pen input.

"Although Apple's CEO scoffed at a stylus being used on the iPhone during his 2007 keynote, the fact remains that Apple continues to this day to bankroll expensive engineers to the task of developing exotic pens, styluses, displays and digital ink engines," said Purcher. "I'd follow the facts more than the myth that Apple will never introduce a stylus or digital pen."

While a stylus is better suited for precise drawing, artist Jorge Columbo drew a richly detailed cover for the New Yorker magazine using virtual finger painting and an application called Brushes on the iPhone. In a blog detailing the effort, complete with a video recap, Columbo said he leaned heavily on the program's Undo feature.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: iphone apps, iPad apps, Apple, patents, MacBook Air

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