Last week's Switched On discussed how some next wave notions from a decade ago were trying to reinvent themselves. Here's one more. Surging smartphone vendor HTC is seeking to bring back an input method that many wrote off long ago with its forthcoming Flyer tablet and EVO View 4G comrade-in-arms: the stylus.
A fixture of early Palm and Psion PDAs, Pocket PCs and Windows Mobile handsets, slim, compact styli were once the most popular thing to slip down a well since Timmy. Then, users would poke the cheap, simple sticks at similarly inexpensive resistive touchscreens. After the debut of tablet PCs, though, more companies started to use active digitizer systems like the one inside the Flyer. Active pens offer more precision, which can help with tasks such as handwriting recognition, and support "hovering" above a screen, the functional equivalent of a mouseover. On the other hand, they are also thicker, more expensive, and need to be charged. (Update: as some have pointed out in comments, Wacom's tablets generate tiny electromagnetic fields that power active digitization, and don't require the pen to store electricity itself.) And, of course, just like passive styli, active pens take up space and can be misplaced.
The 2004 debut of the Nintendo DS -- the ancestor of the just-released 3DS -- marked the beginning of what has become the last mass-market consumer electronics product series to integrate stylus input. The rising popularity of capacitive touch screens and multitouch have replaced styli with fingers as the main user interface elements. Instead of using a precise point for tasks such as placing an insertion point in text, we now expand the text dynamically to accommodate our oily instruments. On-screen buttons have also grown, as have the screens themselves, all in the name of losing a contrivance.