Galaxy Note 9: Samsung stays loyal to S Pen as stylus phones vanish from market
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 may be one of the few remaining phones in the market to come with a stylus.
Smartphones with stylus are a rarity. Think about it: When was the last time you saw someone using a non-Samsung phone with a stylus? Even as Samsung clings on to the S Pen with its new Galaxy Note 9, there is no other stylus phone that comes within striking distance of this one.
A quick Google search for "stylus phones 2018" will show you a sad relationship between phones and styluses in India. These online listings reveal a lack of diversity in the genre, mostly dominated by Samsung phones.
Not long ago, phones with styluses were all the rage, and a few brands were trying to democratise the technology by offering low-end phones that supported them. For instance, LG launched the G4 Stylus for ₹24,990 in July 2015.
Two years ago, Panasonic had debuted with its first stylus-enabled Android phone with the Panasonic P51. It was priced at ₹26,990. The same year, Spice launched Pinnacle Stylus Mi-550 smartphone with a stylus for ₹15,999. There was also the Wickedleak Wammy Titan, which was a ₹13,000 device with entry-level specifications. Good or bad, the phone did support the stylus.
In simpler words, between 2013 and 2015, there were quite a few options for those who wanted to use a pen to doodle on the screen.
And then, stylus-enabled phones began evaporating from the market. And Samsung remained the only major player to stick with the S Pen for its Note series.
Extinction of stylus phones
The concept behind stylus phones was that it allowed taking quick notes and making doodles as people were still getting used to capacitive touchscreens. Capacitive touchscreens ensured smoother screen responsiveness as compared to the older resistive touchscreens. Multi-touch screens were then gradually becoming mainstream as compared to two-touch screens.
Thanks to Samsung, the larger-screen phones, then called phablets, were becoming popular. And for brands, a stylus for bigger screens made sense. While most modern phones come with screens larger than 5 inches, anything over that screen size back then was dubbed as a phablet - positioned between a tablet and a smartphone.
Kunal Khullar, a senior technology journalist, believes that other than Samsung, no other phone brand could make the most of the stylus.
"The market has changed a lot in the last three years. Even Samsung Galaxy Note phones are quite niche, and I doubt most of the people are even leveraging the S Pen. Styluses makes a lot of sense in large-screen devices, such as a compact hybrid laptop or a tablet PC, but few are interested in the technology for phones," he said.
Steve Jobs' jibe and Apple's U-turn
Apple's late mercurial founder Steve Jobs made it more than clear that he didn't like the stylus. While launching the inaugural iPhone, Steve Jobs commented on then PDAs, "Who wants a stylus? You have to get em', put em' away. You lose them. Yuck."
In Jobs' defence, he wasn't in favour of a stylus for then smaller phones. Though his views on the technology convinced a lot of people that styluses were pretty cumbersome thing to handle. In 2011, Samsung debuted its first Galaxy Note with an "extremely large" 5.3-inch device with a stylus and even received a positive reception.
About eight years later after Jobs' remarks, Apple introduced the Apple Pencil for the new iPad Pro. So far, Apple has resisted the idea of adding Apple Pencil support to the iPhone, which could make sense for its current larger-screen offerings.
Here's the video of Steve Jobs denouncing the styluses.
Samsung Galaxy Note: S Pen evolution
From the first-generation stylus to last year's Samsung Galaxy Note 8, S Pen has seen rapid evolution. The loyalty has paid off for the company.
Parv Sharma, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, says: "The flagship Galaxy Note Series offers the latest cutting-edge technology from Samsung. The included stylus is used to aid natural interaction with the phone like writing notes, replying to texts and drawing. The stylus is also popular with power users. Moreover, stylus adds a stickiness factor to the note series."
"Samsung has constantly added features to the stylus with custom applications that enhance utility and more importantly, added more levels of pressure sensitivity which helps with handwriting and drawing. There is also competition from the Apple Pencil, which is for larger screen devices but offers precision performance and zero latency at a higher price. In order to keep the S pen (Stylus) as a differentiator in the Note series, Samsung is likely to improve and enhance S pen features in its upcoming Note 9 smartphone," he added.
Let's take a look at the S Pen from the last year.
The device allows users to draw emojis, make animated GIFs; take quick notes and screenshots; and annotate. Samsung has opened a PENUP platform where it encourages users to share their artwork with others. The company claims there are three million PENUP users.
In terms of specifications, the tip supports 4,096 pressure levels, allowing users to add different shades of brush strokes like a regular pencil. It is also IP68 certified, which means that it can survive submersion up to 1.5 m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes.
According to reports, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9's S Pen will come with some major improvements while retaining the same look and feel of its predecessor.