In Defense of the Stylus

When I first bought my original iPad, I never thought once about getting a stylus. It didn’t really seem necessary, and why should it? Our fingers are the intended tool to use here, right? But when I bought my new iPad a few months ago, things changed. Suddenly, I felt like a stylus wasn’t just an accessory, but necessary.

Why? What changed with the new iPad versus my original? Is there really a reason why anyone needs a stylus? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s find out after the jump. 

Which One

There are dozens of great reviews out there on styli, and after reading through most of them, I purchased a Wacom Bamboo Stylus Solo from Amazon. At $30 it wasn’t cheap, but once I got it in my hands I understood what the reviewers were talking about. It’s nicely balanced, feels great in my hands and is easy to use. Plus, the tips are replaceable, another nice feature.

The Bamboo Wacom Stylus.

The Bamboo Wacom Stylus.

The Artist

But what made me think about getting this thing in the first place? In a word, Paper.

I wanted to become a comic book artist back in the college days; I even went so far as to major in art for a year. But once I realized that it wasn’t going to work out, I abandoned my sketchbook to pursue other mediums. It was a bit depressing, if I’m honest.

When I started seeing cool things like Jim Lee using the iPad as a sketchbook, I was hooked. I knew that if I could buy myself a stylus and get a program like Paper that I could start drawing again with no fear of making mistakes. I could blue line like I used to and create multiple layers. I could draw superheroes again and spend some time sketching things out. It was the perfect medium for what I had been missing for so long.

But by the time this epiphany hit me, my original iPad was a bit long in the tooth. It wasn’t as responsive as it should be for a sketchbook, so I decided to wait until my next upgrade.

The Editor

I’m the editor of both iPhone.AppStorm and iPad.AppStorm, so I do a lot of reading and editing. Ever try to edit text on the iPad with your fingers? It’s not that great, and I certainly hope it improves sometime soon. The problem is a matter of being precise with your finger when you can’t see where it’s touching. The stylus, with its smaller footprint on the screen, made it easier to highlight and insert the cursor where it needed to be.

In fact, this came in handy just the other day. I went to a doctor’s appointment with my wife, and while I was in the waiting room I busted out the iPad to edit some text in Pages. The stylus made the process smoother and quicker, and I had the document fixed up before we were called into the office. It made me more productive and faster, and that I can appreciate.

Where It Doesn’t Fit

Is it required that I use my stylus for everything with the iPad? Of course not, that’s obviously not the case. And in fact, there are more times than not where a stylus isn’t the best option.

The popular Alupen.

The popular Alupen.

Browsing the Internet, typing, iMessage, writing, and most of all, games, all fall into the category of “things I don’t do with a stylus.” Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I’d hold the stylus and try to violently tap against something during a game while worrying that I’d crack the screen. Or I’d try to write an article with my index fingers, holding my stylus between the remaining digits. Either way, it just doesn’t fit those situations, and that’s fine with me.

Do You Need One?

It’s a tough question to answer, but I’ll give it a shot: No.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to become the next great artist or you find that editing on the iPad is frustrating like I do, there is no occasion where you absolutely need a stylus and that’s why the iPad is as popular as it is today. We all have skin that can activate a screen, so the best tools that we have at our disposal are our hands.

That’s not to say that it’s bad, though. Sure, you don’t need a stylus, but we don’t need wireless keyboards either, because USB ones work just as well, right? It’s just that sometimes you want to use the best tool that you have at your disposal. So no, you don’t need it. But you might find it handy.

Final Thoughts

Steve Jobs put it best: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” And he’s right. Truth is, a stylus with an iPad is a completely different experience, and it’s not the experience that Apple intended. But for some of us, and in specific situations, the stylus can really ramp up our productivity.

Sure, it’s not the thing that I take with me everywhere I take my iPad, but when I feel like designing a new superhero, or maybe editing some paperwork, for me, the stylus is the way to go. Is it for you? Maybe. You’ll just have to do what I did and buy one to find out.


  • http://www.losconn.com TwoSim

    I just bought Jot pro last month ( http://adonit.net/product/jot-pro/ ) and its really cool! I thought the head of the pen is thinner!

    • http://www.whippsindustries.com Kevin Whipps

      I looked at that one, but one of the reviews mentioned that it seems like you could scratch the glass with certain movements. Since my thought was to use this for sketching, it seemed like that might be a problem. For precision though, that’s the one for sure.

  • http://www.casabona.org Joe Casabona

    My friend recommended the Bamboo to me and I love it. I picked up the Bamboo Duo (stylus and pen). It is always with me.

  • http://cargocollective.com/redrigos Red Rigos

    I started off with a Boxwave Stylus I bought from Amazon. It work well for a while, but the rubber tip quickly wore off with extended use. It was about $6 and worth it.

    I was a bit skeptical about spending $30 for a Bamboo… but… man. The second I used it I fell in love. It’s worth every penny. I just hope the experience lasts. Luckily the tip is replaceable, but I hope I wont have to buy a new tip for a long time.

  • Mikemick

    My number one request for my iPad would be to have a stylus port built in. It’s a shame that Apple took such a strong approach against the stylus. Their stance was quite necessary to get us to where we are today with UI and hardware, but the only problem is Apple can be pretty stubborn, and even though I think we all see how a stylus can enhance (not replace) the tablet UI experience, I don’t foresee them flip flopping and embracing the stylus by building hardware that will accomodate them.

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  • Norman Astrin

    I have learned to use gestures to the extent that if the app doesn’t incorporate them I find them lacking to take advantage of the iPad milleau. I have been using art apps and am looking for a good stylus to be able to make my marks more accurately. It still requires practice and any tool is an aid. Hockney was able to do vases of flowers with his thumb on an iPhone.

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