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article imageGoogle joins initiative to develop open stylus standard

By James Walker     Jan 31, 2018 in Technology
Google's joined the Universal Stylus Initiative, a body seeking to standardise the interface for digital styluses. The organisation wants tech firms to produce styluses that are compatible with all hardware devices, irrespective of vendor or platform.
Google is one of six companies to have joined the Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) today. 3M Touch Systems, Lattice Semiconductor, Maxeye Smart Technologies, MyScript and Tactual Labs have also announced support. The organisation now has over 30 members collaborating to develop an open standard for active styluses.
Active stylus tech has become a key feature of many premium computing devices over the past few years. Microsoft's Surface Pro, Apple's iPad Pro and Google's Pixelbook – the flagship mobile hardware products from each respective brand – all include a proprietary stylus. These devices are supposed to emulate the feel of a real pen and contain sensors to accurately detect stylus pressure, orientation and movement.
One element these advanced styluses lack is interoperability with each other. Unlike a real pen, you can't use a single stylus to write on any kind of device. Because each brand has developed its own tech and proprietary interfaces, a Surface Pen won't work on an iPad display or vice versa.
The USI is attempting to change this by encouraging manufacturers to create a true digital pen ecosystem. Styluses meeting the standard would offer a better alternative to real pens because they'd operate independently of their host device. The advantages would be immediate for users as switching hardware wouldn't require a new pen.
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This would reduce expense and increase collaboration opportunities. In a meeting room, people could contribute to plans using whichever digital pen they have to hand, even if it doesn't "match" the device. Furthermore, the USI wants pens to store configuration details such as the current ink colour, so you could seamlessly switch display surfaces without changing settings.
"The [specification] enables the OEM, IHV and software ecosystem to develop a new generation of active styluses that provide consumers a consistent, customisable and interoperable experience across make, model and form factor," said the USI. "The USI 1.0 Specification also enables new usages for active styluses, such as multiple styluses operating simultaneously on a single device."
Google's support for the initiative could be significant in moving the specification forward. Other companies participating in the USI include Intel, LG Display and Sharp, as well as existing consumer stylus makers such as Wacom, Dell and Lenovo.
So far, Microsoft and Apple are yet to engage. Both companies have heavily invested in developing their own stylus technologies and inking ecosystems. This makes it unlikely they'll commit to the initiative anytime soon, especially as both now market their styluses as standalone accessories.
The Surface Pen retails at $99 and the Apple Pencil at $129. Embracing an open standard could allow consumers to use much cheaper generic active styluses, lowering all-important first-party revenue from device sales.
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