Even Steve Jobs didn’t see this one coming: The stylus is back.
The late Apple co-founder derided the idea of using plastic pens with smartphones and tablet computers. “Who wants a stylus?” Jobs said in 2007. “You have to get ’em and put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus.” Then in 2010 after the release of the iPad, he said, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”
Now, a decade after stylus-driven tablet PCs struggled to find an audience, the pen is starting to take off. Four companies that sell pens for the iPad and iPhone say they saw significant sales growth in the last month or so.
One apparent driver of the stylus revival is “Draw Something,” the breakout mobile game by OMGPOP, which was acquired by Zynga last week. The game is similar to Pictionary in that players guess words based on their friends’ doodles. In less than two months, it has amassed 28.5 million users, according to AppData, which tracks software usage.
“Certainly, if you’re serious about that game, the stylus would be an advantage,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for research firm Gartner. “A lot of people got out of the finger-painting stage pretty early in life.”
Just Mobile, which makes a product called the AluPen, said its sales have doubled. “‘Draw Something’ makes people crazy,” Ensha Huang, a spokeswoman for the Taichung, Taiwan company, said in a statement. “Many people realize the styluses are just needed for drawing.”
It’s not the only app boosting sales of styluses. Note-taking and doodling apps such as ColorBox HD, Notability and Penultimate are also on the lists of the most-downloaded iPad apps. In addition, two stylus-focused notebook apps for the iPad, Paper and Taposé, came out this week. They were both inspired by Microsoft’s Courier, the conceptual tablet that the company canned in favor of Windows 8.
While early tablets failed because they relied too heavily on the stylus, people today are finding situations where a pen is preferable to a finger, Gartenberg said.
Samsung took many in the industry by surprise when the company said that 5 million Galaxy Notes, the $300 phone-tablet hybrid with a 5.3-inch screen and a stylus, had shipped to stores. A Samsung spokeswoman said its stylus, called the S Pen, gives “Draw Something” players an edge.
“That’s an expensive device with which to play ‘Draw Something,'” wrote Jose Alvear, an analyst for the San Jose-based Multimedia Research Group, “but the stylus is key to the game.”
Spigen, a Los Angeles accessory maker, has been selling 10 percent more styluses than usual in the past week. Sue Choe, a spokeswoman for the company, said her hunch is that “Draw Something” has something to do with it. Meanwhile, sales of Ten One Design’s Pogo pens are up 33 percent this month. Peter Skinner, the firm’s founder, attributes that to the launch of the new iPad.
Sales of Griffin Technology’s styluses increased by 10 to 20 percent, said Jackie Anderson, a company spokeswoman. Griffin typically sees a slight bump in sales for its accessories when Apple releases a new iPad.
Anderson noted that people around Griffin’s office are now carrying styluses with them so they can play “Draw Something.” And with Griffin’s new line of styluses in spring colors, people can accessorize, she said.
What next? Pocket protectors for styluses?