As is often the case when it comes to the intriguing world of ActiveES pens, the HP website's compatibility information isn't entirely accurate.
Pen interoperability should improve by 2017 when Wacom releases its dual protocol pen and the USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) consortium brings its products to market. But in the meantime, if you're in the market for a pen-abled Active ES device or are looking for a replacement pen for one you already own, I offer this chart of my test results.
Slides from the recent Microsoft WinHEC conference reveal tantalizing new details of Wacom's forthcoming dual protocol pen due out in fourth quarter of 2016.
The next generation G13 pen from Wacom will support both Active ES and Microsoft Pen protocols. According to slides presented by Wacom's Sr. Vice President, Technology Solutions Business Unit Nobutaka Ide, the new pen will support:
- High performance simultaneous Pen & Touch (240Hz Pen, 120Hz Touch)
- 4096 level pen pressure, and
- Tilt detection
These capabilities far outshine both current Microsoft (formerly N-Trig) and Wacom AES pens, which offer 1024 and 2048 pressure levels respectively and do not support tilt. By polling at 240Hz, the new pen should have comparable accuracy and latency to Apple's Pencil.
Because the slides were released without accompanying speaker's notes, some interpretation is required. The next slide seems to indicate that this "Dual Protocol Pen" is part of Wacom's vision for a Universal Pen Framework (UPF) and part of a Digital Stationery Consortium (DSC).
The Wacom slides were part of a larger presentation regarding the significance of Windows Ink to the Microsoft platform presented by David Abzarian, Principal Program Manager.
Highlights of the presentation included a slide touting the explosion of pen-enabled Windows devices, which doubled in 2015 and are projected to reach about 20 million in 2017. Over 50% of all pen enabled devices are running Windows 10 and pen-attached devices generally have higher satisfaction ratings vs. non-pen devices.
The forthcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update will feature several advances that Microsoft hopes will make ink a "compelling experience out of the box," including Edge annotations and the Ink Workspace, which I reviewed in March.
For developers, Microsoft highlighted low latency delivered by DirectInk and new XAML features that enable an Ink Canvas and Ink Toolbar (including ruler) with only one line of code each. OneNote, Office and a variety of Windows Store apps that have already incorporated the new features were reviewed.
One of the areas that Microsoft is emphasizing is the availability of simultaneous pen and touch. Low level APIs that support Pen + Touch Simultaneous Input are now on by default. The presentation also covered how Windows supplements device palm rejection, but it is unclear what improvements have been made in that area. (Merely distinguishing between pen and touch input and ignoring the latter when inking is a major step forward in my opinion).
With a new Microsoft Pen HLK (Hardware Lab Kit), the company is starting the Microsoft Pen Program which will allow other manufacturers to offer their own pens with Windows Ink compatibility. All devices and pens that "speak the Microsoft Pen protocol" should work together.
At present, it appears that Wacom, Sunwoda and APS Technologies have signed on to become Microsoft Pen Suppliers, with Wacom offering its afore-mentioned Dual Protocol Pen. There is also an extensive set of manufacturers signed on to offer Microsoft Pen compatible touch controllers, led by Elan, Synaptics, Goodix, EETI, SIS and Atmel.
This should mean that worrying about pen compatibility and support should become a thing of the past; however, it remains to be seen whether any of these advances are backwards compatible.
In the case of Wacom's first and second generation AES pens (G11/G12), it appears that "pen & touch simultaneous function" will be enabled by a future firmware update.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I missed this story when it was released last month, but better late than never. It's also noteworthy to highlight that Microsoft and N-Trig are not part of this initiative.
Single USI Stylus Will Work Across Multiple Devices, Platforms
WAKEFIELD, Mass., USA – April 23, 2015 – Prominent OEMs, stylus and touch controller manufacturers today announced the launch of Universal Stylus Initiative (USI), a new organization formed to develop and promote an industry specification for an active stylus.
The USI specification will make it possible for manufacturers to design products to a single standard, rather than the variety of proprietary approaches now in use, and it will be compatible with current notebook computer operating system requirements. USI seeks to provide a consistent user experience while increasing the availability and consumer appeal of the active stylus, through providing industry-wide interoperability and adding functions and features not supported by current styluses.
Founding members of USI include Atmel Corporation; Hanvon Pentech Co., Ltd.; Intel Corporation; Lenovo Inc.; Sharp Corporation; Synaptics Inc.; Wacom Co., Ltd.; and Waltop International Corp. at the Promoter level; and Dell Global B.V.; eGalax_eMPIA Technology Inc. (EETI); Elan Microelectronics Corporation; and Focal Tech Electronics, Ltd. at the Contributor level.
USI technology will enable interoperable communication between an active stylus and touch-enabled devices such as phones, tablets, and computing and entertainment platforms from numerous manufacturers, allowing consumers to seamlessly write or draw on different devices with one high-quality stylus that delivers a realistic pen-on-paper experience. The group expects to publish the initial version of the USI specification in the third quarter of 2015.
“USI’s founding members have come together to enable interoperable active styluses that function across many content creation devices,” said Ajay Bhatt, Intel Fellow. “Our goal is to make the active stylus more affordable and widely available in the market. Consumers who buy USI-compatible devices will know that they work seamlessly with each other while providing a high-quality writing or drawing experience.”
“The market has sorely been needing a universal communication standard for active stylus,” said Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research. “To date the market has been limited by proprietary touch controller-stylus solutions, which limits OEM choices and cost reductions. With the USI specification released, we expect that the capacitive active stylus market will grow from 100 million units in 2015 to 300 million units in 2018, opening up new markets such as smartphones and all-in-one PCs.”
[Additional comments from USI founding member companies appear at the end of this press release.]
Features of the USI specification include the method by which the stylus communicates with content creation devices and provides additional information such as stylus pressure levels, button presses, erasing, and other features. Through the same sensor that one’s finger uses to command a device, the stylus communicates via different frequencies to perform the action of writing — writing with up to 2048 different levels of pressure to give the pen-on-paper experience and render thinner or thicker lines in note-taking, painting and doodling, just like an ink pen.
USI is currently accepting additional member companies who are ready to be hands-on in completing and promoting a specification to achieve active stylus interoperability. USI welcomes any organization that wants to be involved in this industry initiative. Several membership levels are available.
About Universal Stylus Initiative
Launched in 2015, Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) is an international not-for-profit technology trade association whose mission is to define industry-wide standards for interoperable communication between an active stylus and touch-enabled devices such as phones, tablets, and computing and entertainment platforms. The USI specification provides for a stylus capable of communicating with different touch sensors and touch controller integrated circuits, so that users can employ the same stylus across numerous touch-enabled devices, as long as each device’s touch controller is compliant with the USI specification.
USI founding members include Atmel Corporation; Hanvon Pentech Co., Ltd.; Intel Corporation; Lenovo Inc.; Sharp Corporation; Synaptics Inc.; Wacom Co., Ltd.; and Waltop International Corp. at the Promoter level, and Dell Global B.V.; eGalax_eMPIA Technology Inc. (EETI); Elan Microelectronics Corporation; and Focal Tech Electronics, Ltd. at the Contributor level. Membership in USI is required in order to obtain the specification and to license the IP that it contains. More information about USI and USI technology is available at www.universalstylus.org.
SUPPORTING STATEMENTS FROM USI FOUNDING MEMBERS
“As a leading provider of touch solutions, we identified a need to develop a standardized specification for an active stylus across multiple platforms,” said Stan Swearingen, SVP, CTO and GM of Touch Business Unit, Atmel Corporation. “As a founding member of Universal Stylus Initiative, we partnered with 11 other companies to define and drive a ubiquitous standard across platforms with capacitive touchscreens. We are excited to launch this new initiative and standardized specification, and believe it will drive more active styluses into the market, creating an evolution of touchscreen devices into content creation devices.”
Elan Microelectronics Corporation
“With device form factors converging, the demand from consumption to productivity is key in the next stage of technology revolution. We firmly believe that the active capacitive stylus, because it scales to multiple screens and sizes, is the right solution to meet this demand,” said Joe Yeh, Special Executive, President’s Office.
Hanvon Pentech Co., Ltd.
“As an expert in pen input technology and production for over two decades, Hanvon Pentech owns 140 patents and always believes in the beauty of using a digital pen to capture inspirations,” said James Zhang, General Manager of Hanvon Pentech. “The initiative helps to eliminate the limits among touch screens, allowing users to use the same stylus to create content on different mobile devices, while providing excellent and precise writing and drawing experience. As a founding member of USI, Hanvon Pentech is dedicated to the development and promotion of the universal stylus. A new era of expression is coming.”
“Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) benefits the consumer by defining a common stylus interface to ensure interoperability between pens and devices while simultaneously providing room for manufacturers to innovate,” said Wallace Pai, VP Large Display Business, Synaptics. “As the leading provider of human interface solutions and a founding member of USI, Synaptics sees a great opportunity to develop customized features that advance the tablet and notebook user experience.”
Wacom Co., Ltd.
“With the right technologies and IT environment in place now, mobile products such as smartphones and tablets are ready to embrace the stylus as a primary input interface to support human creativity. As the IT industry and customers’ ability to manipulate their devices mature, we believe the stylus, the most intuitive tool in human history, is about to gain momentum rapidly among mobile products. Wacom is happy to take the lead in this momentous shift,” said Masahiko Yamada, president & CEO of Wacom.
Waltop International Corp.
“As a company engaged in developing and promoting the use of the stylus, the most natural input for digital devices, for over 17 years, Waltop has observed the increase in stylus demand for digital devices, as well as the decrease of pen use among students. An initiative to push forward the adoption of the stylus among digital users will effectively advance its use on all mobile devices, in addition to notebook computers,” said Ben Lee, Vice President, Sales & Marketing. “Based on broad knowledge about using digital styluses developed over the years, Waltop is pleased to take part in this group in order to realize its long-lasting vision of bringing pens back to people in writing, sketching, and the numerous other occasions when grabbing a pen and a piece of paper seems so natural.”