I’ve been onboard the iOS bandwagon from the beginning- I owned both a first generation iPhone and iPad (and had an iPod Touch for a short while before realizing that an iPod Classic suited my needs much better). I tend to agree with Steve Jobs‘ assessment of the best form of interface- the finger. Using a touchscreen for most daily tasks on my iOS devices has been intuitive and made the devices more transparent, allowing me to do what I want to rather than focusing on using the device to accomplish tasks. Apple’s assessment of the human hand as the best interface tool has been the correct one, supported by Mr. Jobs’ famous quote that “…if you see a stylus [the creators of competing devices] blew it.”
Although I’d wager the vast majority of iOS device users use their devices as Apple intended, there is a burgeoning market of capacitive screen compatible styluses. What gives- was Steve wrong after all?
In short, not really. While daily use of iOS devices is still easiest using the stylus attached to your hand, there are some tasks that lend better to a stylus. There are numerous great reviews on the variety of touch input accessories out there: Cult of Mac, TUAW, Engadget, Laughing Squid, and MacWorld all have some great reviews and insight (particularly the MacWorld post). There are far too many out there for me to even consider adding to the reviews; I’d rather discuss the why instead of the what.
The MacWorld article referenced above discusses one of the best stylus uses for iOS devices- artwork. There are numerous art-centric apps in the iTunes App Store, and while a finger will do I agree that whether you’re drawing or ‘painting’, a stylus makes the experience better. Even with games like Draw Something I do far better with a stylus than a fingertip. While not a name-brand version I do have a capacitive brush stylus, and the experience has been a very positive one. The brush provides a different sort of tactile feedback that prevents me from pressing too hard and encountering some screen friction like I have experienced with a traditional stylus. Serious iOS artists might even consider the Hand Glider; a partial glove that prevents your palm and side of your hand from interacting with your device’s screen while you draw or paint.
Another task I’ve preferred using a stylus for is handwriting. There are some very good note taking apps, and even if you have a Bluetooth keyboard sometimes you just want to jot down something. Again, my brain seems to be hardwired to prefer the traditional feel of using a writing utensil rather than sketching out letters with a finger.
For those of you that like to use your iPad in the kitchen a stylus can be an unexpected must-have. I tend to get my hands involved more often than not when cooking, and when you need to interact with your iPad it’s a great deal easier to grab a stylus than wash and dry your hands (and live with screen smudges that happen anyway). I love having my iPad in the kitchen when cooking; whether it’s for instruction via one of the numerous recipe apps I’ve collected, entertainment from some of the previously reviewed streaming video options, or communication via FaceTime, IM, or iMessage; when you need to interact it’s more than handy to have an extra always-clean digit to touch your device’s screen with. If you’re taking this route make sure to get a stylus that can handle regular washing.
These are just a few ideas on stylus use. The form of the stylus often dictates what function it would be best at. While not a required part of iOS life, I’m glad I’ve integrated a stylus or two into my repertoire of accessories.