Professional artists and interested amateurs love to use their iPads to draw and sketch ideas, take notes, and produce original artwork. Even the best stylus currently on the market has the limitation that it can only present a single level of pressure to the tablet — drawing is either on or off. To mimic variable pressure, a number of software tricks have been developed, but none realistically reproduce natural media or the direct feedback of a pressure-sensitive stylus.
In addition to the iPad, there are a growing number of excellent Android tablets that could benefit from pressure sensitivity. Integrated active digitizers exist, based mainly on proprietary Wacom technology, built into the tablet itself.
By integrating a pressure sensor and physical feedback into a comfortable package, the PressurePen pressure sensitive stylus effectively adds a third dimension to input on iPads and other tablets. This pressure information is sent to the tablet in the current version via an audio cable to the microphone port. A small piece of software, which can be easily integrated into an existing application, reads the pressure and translates that into, for example, the width of a virtual paintbrush, density of color, stroke width, etc.
By implementing pressure sensitivity in the stylus, rather than rely on an active digitizer in the tablet, the PressurePen can be used on any tablet with a microphone or headset jack and supporting software, and be easily moved from one device to another.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The PressurePen sends a signal to the tablet it's connected to that varies depending on how hard you're pressing on the tip. Software on the tablet can interpret the pressure as any sort of third dimension information. For a drawing app, this would most likely change the width or density of the drawing stroke. A light touch renders a fine line, a harder stroke creates a fat one. Another potential application is gaming and entertainment apps. The harder you press on the stylus could change the speed a character runs, for example.
DIDN'T I JUST SEE A SIMILAR PRODUCT ON KICKSTARTER?
Yes. I have terrible timing. Kickstarter was going to be my first stop once I had a working prototype, but I was put in contact with a potential investor and manufacturer last year who ultimately backed out. This set me back by about six months, and in that time the jaja project had stolen my thunder as "first" pressure-sensitive iPad stylus.
WHY SUPPORT PRESSUREPEN?
First of all, you would be supporting open source development — both the hardware and software for PressurePen will be open source. The pressure sensing code will be released under an open license, and the schematics, circuit diagrams and 3D parts files will be available to anyone who wants to make or modify their own. My hope is that this will encourage more creative applications, improvements and compatible add-ons to future versions of the PressurePen.
As a reward for your support, you can choose to receive one of a limited run of beta prototypes, assembled by hand with 3D printed shells. If you're a developer interested in beta testing, or adding PressurePen support to your own application, I encourage you to choose this option. The more PressurePens I can get into the hands of hackers and artists, the better for everyone who eventually buys one.
Ultimately, the PressurePen will be a retail product, and it will work with a number of drawing, sketching and painting applications. If you like to draw or doodle on your iPad or Android tablet, you'll probably want a PressurePen or one of the other pressure sensitive stylus products on the market.
WHY SUPPORT PRESSUREPEN INSTEAD OF BUYING A JAJA OR JOT?
Let me be clear: I'm happy that there are multiple pressure sensitive styluses (styli?) on the market now, or will be soon. When I first conceived of the PressurePen, it wasn't as an entrepreneur or inventor, but because I wanted to draw on my iPad. If the other devices had come to market a year ago, I wouldn't have bothered to teach myself about PCB design, ICs, 3D printing or venture capital.
As for the competition...
The jaja (see their Kickstarter page or official site) looks like a really nice product. The Kickstarter project was successfully funded, but they have yet to show any working models, only renders of what the product will look like. Current production is scheduled for April; however, it's uncertain as to when it will be available. Their ultrasonic technology is a real innovation, and thus protected by patents. The complexity of their initial offering means it's hard to know if there will end up being interference problems with ambient noise or other real-world issues, though I'm excited to see it working. They are looking at a street price of $70 to $100.
The Jot Touch (see the Adonit site) uses Bluetooth for communication, which makes it untethered and a pretty slick combination of hardware and software. A Bluetooth connection, however, means a battery drain on both the stylus and tablet — they're estimating 12 hours between charges — and makes the device expensive to produce — estimating $100 street price. There's also the hassle of pairing devices and using it on an airplane (no Bluetooth in "airplane mode"). Unfortunately, it's not available yet either, so I can't attest to any specifics. They also claim only about 200 levels of sensitivity.
The PressurePen, in contrast, is a very simple device that should be inexpensive to produce. It doesn't rely on battery-draining Bluetooth or an integrated rechargeable battery, but will run on a single AAA for hundreds of hours. Keep reading for more features and reasons.
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
Absolutely. I'm actively looking for manufacturing partners at the moment to produce the retail version of the PressurePen. If you have deep pockets or happen to own an injection molding facility, please shoot me an email. Otherwise, choose your reward level. Operators are standing by...
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Actually, it's a pretty simple process, and hardly a secret. If you're a developer, and you're interested in adding support to your app, I'll give you a complete tour of the technology as well as sample code for both iOS and Android.
WHY TETHERED? WHY NOT WIRELESS?
While the current version 1.0 is tethered to the audio port on the iPad, none of the testers have found that to be a limitation. The cable is very thin and flexible, and doesn't bind or get in the way. Also, it's the easiest way to get a signal into the iPad without having to run the gauntlet of Apple's MFI (Made for iPhone) licensing program. Anything that connects to the dock connector or via Bluetooth has to be signed and licensed by Apple, a tedious and complex proposition. That just wasn't in the cards for an individual hacker like me with no budget and no experience in IP law. Future versions will likely be wireless, though that will drive up the price and complexity.
If you think the cable will bother you, order a jaja. Honestly, it looks like a great product, and the way it works is impressive.
DOES IT COME IN COLORS?
Seriously? You're asking about colors? Fine: Yes. The retail product will come in all sorts of fashion colors. Keep an eye on this page for future updates, and you can help choose the first color options. For now, though, if you choose a prototype as a reward, you can have any color you like, as long as it's white. That's the color of the SLA 3D printed parts.
If you have access to a 3D printer or want to order one on Shapeways, choose the kit reward, and you can make your own shell in whatever color you can print.
IS IT PATENTED?
Yep. Patent pending, anyway.
WTF? I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS GOING TO BE OPEN SOURCE?
That's the plan. When the PressurePen goes on sale, it will include a complete set of schematics and circuit diagrams for hackers and tinkerers to modify and improve upon. And, if you have access to a 3D printer, the STL files for the shell and other plastic parts will be available.
All that will happen once my funding goal is reached. Until then, I'm keeping my options open, and that includes protecting my idea.