Steve Jobs and the stylus

Apple has been busy filing stylus patents. As Philip Elmer-DeWitt points out in his post on Fortune, ten of them this year. That makes 32 and counting. And as Philip also points out, you can't discuss the idea of an Apple stylus without people bringing up these two famous statements by Steve Jobs:

Nobody wants a stylus

If you see a stylus, they blew it.

Philip makes the case that people may be taking these statements out of context:

Note that Jobs didn’t say nobody would ever want a stylus. He said nobody wants a stylus as the primary input on a mobile phone. For that, fingers are better.

Here's another way to look at it. Steve wanted to put a point on the fact that Apple's touch screen technology was so good that it didn't require a stylus. Making fun of the stylus made other devices look inferior or even silly - particularly given the role of the stylus was often that of a crutch vs. a useful tool. The iPhone didn't need a crutch. All it needed was your finger. In other words, Steve's statements served Apple well at the time and weren't necessarily meant to abolish styli.

Maybe the stylus didn't make sense at the time. And perhaps some combination of use case and technology has changed. To his credit, Steve often changed his mind about things. In 2008 he said Amazon's Kindle was "flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” In 2010 Apple released iBooks. In that example, the iPad brought on the combination of use case and technology that opened up the door for iBooks. As brilliant as Steve Jobs was, we should be careful not to apply his words indiscriminately.

So will Apple release a stylus? I don't know. I agree with Philip that it's increasing hard to ignore the ongoing stylus work being patented by Apple. At the same time, I've been following Apple long enough to know that its focus and high standards cause many of its projects to never ship. As a great man once said:

"I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying "no" to 1,000 things." - Steve Jobs