During a press conference in April 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”
During an Apple event in September 2015, Apple introduced… a stylus.
Actually, Apple calls it the Pencil; it costs $99 and works with the iPad Pro, a super-sized tablet scheduled to make its debut later this year. The pair of sensors embedded in its tip will allow artists and designers to apply very precise force to the screen—helpful when you’re trying to draw different thicknesses of line, or degrees of shading. Those who like to scribble notes on the margins of things will probably find a use for the device, as well.
Although a lot of tech publications have chosen to juxtapose the announcement of the Apple Pencil with the original Jobs quotation, Apple has actually done quite well by releasing products that violate its co-founder’s personal quibbles. Jobs famously hated the idea of smaller tablets, and thought the original iPhone was the perfect size; in the years following his death in late 2011, Apple released both an iPad Mini and a much larger set of iPhones, to considerable sales success.
In fact, a lot of tech pros in a lot of sub-industries, from industrial engineering to video game design, could find ample use for a stylus that interacts with a screen. The question isn’t whether those professionals will buy this particular piece of hardware; it’s whether enough of them will buy it, along with the iPad Pro, for it to qualify as a “hit” by Apple’s ludicrously high benchmarks.
Although the stylus by itself might not make the iPad Pro a blockbuster, the tablet’s detachable “smart keyboard” could do the trick—provided enough people out there see the combination as a viable laptop replacement. Although the demand for tablets and PCs has slowly eroded over the past few quarters, Apple may hope that a suitably powerful tablet with a keyboard will allow it to reverse the iPad’s declines by cannibalizing a chunk of the PC market.
Whether or not Apple succeeds in that cannibalization, it’s clear that the Pencil is a big part of the company’s play for a professional audience. For everybody else… well, you can still use your fingers.