People seem to think that the next bastion of computer control is going to be a 3d enviroment where you manipulate files with your hands. (Minority Report, Leap Motion) While I think this tech will be further developed and people will use it, it will be impractical for the general public for a couple reasons. First, your arms get tired quickly and most people aren't going to build the necessary muscles to hold your arms up for hours at a time. Second, for the vast majority of people mobile computers (phones/tablets) are going to be the primary form of computing. Which would make it fairly pointless because you would have to pull out your phone to use it. So what will be the next step forward in everyday computing controls? To be honest this is a question I have been asking myself for years. While I think voice will be an important means of control, I have another less obvious answer, the stylus. I saw that eye roll but think about it, a stylus is an easy to carry tool, everyone knows how to use them, and the technology already exists. Manufacturers just have to move past the traditional idea that a stylus needs to write on a screen or pad.
How It Would Work
The stylus I am proposing would be able to write on any surface, including air, and record the data in your phone. Then handwriting recognition turns it into plain text and stores it. The real magic would be the contextual understanding your phone does analyzing what you wrote. The phone figures out where the data needs to go and presents you with a card the next time you look at your phone to confirm. Examples:
- On a phone call and need to jot down a name and an email? Just pull out the stylus and write it on the table in front of you and it's automatically stored in your phone. No table? Write in the air. Internal sensors monitor itself in a 3d space whenever activated to record your actions.
- You write down 'Buy cereal' and it creates a reminder card under the groceries list.
- A short note is saved in your note taking application
- Highlight text and send it to other apps
It could also launch actions:
- Set timer/alarm
- Tweet what you just wrote
- mark completed tasks from your to-do list
- turn on and off settings like LTE or Do Not Disturb
It Could Change How We Interact With Our Computers
iOS users can only have one application run at a time so this would allow them to take notes on something without switching back and forth. It could also be used to copy text from one application to another. You highlight text on your iPhone or iPad and a special gesture sends it to a pre-determined document. Adding needed functionality to iOS devices.
Tablets are becoming ubiquitous while desktop computer use is falling. I think we will see a trend of people using a tablet with a stand and physical keyboard. Don't get me wrong, the tablet works well for many things without a stand and keyboard. In fact that is one of its greatest strengths. However for long, occasionally tasks, that were traditionally done on a desktop, I think people will buy a stand and keyboard rather than another computer. For tasks like writing an essay tablets are too heavy to hold for long periods of time, holding it in one hand that leaves only one hand to work with, propping it up with your thigh and hand is un-ergonomical. With a stand with an external keyboard the stylus could act as your finger to press the screen. You hold it like you would a pen on a desk and when you activate it a little circle appears on the screen, pressing the pen to the table acts as a touch. Eliminating the tired, strained arm I can personally attest happens from having to constantly reach up to tap the screen. I realize this isn't a typical use case for most, though I do this all the time, but as people ditch computers for tablets this will solve a major flaw.
As mobile computers become more powerful some people are going to want to do more advanced things on them. I don't think we should rule out the stylus when it comes to touch screen computing. Not for everyone but I hazard a guess that there will soon be a class of advanced users who's main computer is a tablet. The precision of a stylus would be much more useful than a finger. Once again this wouldn't be for the everyday user but the power users like artists, engineers, and the like.
With the rise of Siri, Google Now, and soon Cortana, the voice seems like it will become a powerful method for controlling your computers. I don't doubt that voice control will keep getting better but I don't think we should put all of our eggs in one basket, especially when the voice analysis is done on a server and not on your computer itself. Voice control and styli face many of the same hurdles: proper input recognition, contextual understanding, computing power, and others. They could evolve symbiotically but I don't think they will. Manufacturers seem to be of the mindset that voice recognition has boundless possibilities while the stylus is stuck in the traditional mindset.
Would People Use This
"Nobody wants a stylus" - Steve Jobs introducing the original iPhone
Even if a stylus adds a ton of functionality can people look past the stigma it holds as an antiquated device? I think the answer is obvious when you look at the Samsung Note series, it's selling like crazy. There is a market for styluses but for mainstream acceptance I think the publics mindset would have to be changed by showing the general public how useful they could be. Would you use a stylus if it had the features written above?