Back when Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone, he went on and on about how Apple decided to use the most natural stylus, your finger, for navigating the newly designed touchscreen. The advantages were obvious: You already know how to use your finger (no, not THAT finger), you can’t misplace it and it’s always there, ready to use. But truth be told, I am an artist (designer, actually) by trade and I haven’t painted with my finger since I was seven. And I use a Wacom tablet in my work – a lot. So I depend on a stylus and I am quite comfortable using one. But is there a stylus made for the iPhone/iPad that I might actually want to use? Yeah, there is and it’s called the AluPen, from Just Mobile.
When Jobs stated his reasons for no stylus being necessary, I agreed. When I bought my first iPhone, I thought it was genius that I could use my fingers to type, tap, scroll, drag and pinch. Pretty cool. Then I downloaded Autodesk’s SketchBook Mobile. All of a sudden, my finger wasn’t so cool, anymore. Try taping a pencil to your finger and draw something. It feels really weird and – sorry, Steve – it’s not natural. But a pencil is. And everyone is familiar with them.
The people at Just Mobile thought about this and so, they designed a pencil for the iPhone/iPad. Well, it’s not really a pencil, but it sure look like one. What it is, is a hexagonal shaped aluminum stick with a black tip attached. That’s pretty much it. But Just Mobile collaborated with Tools Design to make it look and feel like the pencil we all know and use. And the result is a thing of beauty. The AluPen really does look cool and feels good in your hand.
At first glance, it looks and feels fat, which it is. But because it’s aluminum, it’s really light and cool to the touch. The black tip is rounded, not “sharp” at all and it’s soft and a bit squishy. That’s weird. The softness bugged me until I realized why it’s soft. It mimics the finger tip. Try dragging or tapping on your iPad with a real pencil or other hard stylus and it’s won’t do anything. But with its soft tip, the AluPen fools the iPad into thinking you’re using your finger.
Now, when I am doodling in Sketchbook, it’s a more natural feeling when I just sketch like I always have… except when it isn’t. There is (for me) one major flaw to the AluPen, and it’s not even Just Mobile’s fault. When I sketch, I rest my hand on the paper so my arm doesn’t get tired and it gives me more control of the pencil. However, using the AluPen on an iPad required that I lift my hand off the screen while sketching. Because if I didn’t, my hand or another finger would start drawing, too. Not good. I really don’t know what the solution is at this point. But we are only in the first version of the iPad and maybe in the future, there will be settings that will correct for that. Note that because of the its relatively small screen size, this was not an issue with the iPhone.
For its intended market, the AluPen is fun, comfortable and genius in its simplicity. But it is hampered by the limitations of products it was designed to work with.