Ina Fried

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Pen Computing Backers Hope to Write New Chapter With Android

Pen computing seems to be on the wane with the rise of the decidedly stylus-free iPad. However, those who maintain that the pen is mightier than the finger aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

N-trig, a company whose technology is used in many touch-based Windows laptops, now hopes to convince Android tablet makers to embrace the notion of pen support.

By doing so, N-trig maintains companies can stand out from the pack and make their tablets good for content creation in addition to Web browsing and media viewing.

The company plans to announce as early as Tuesday that its DuoSense technology, which allows for both pen and multitouch input, now supports Android. N-trig said it expects next year to bring several Android tablets using its technology, with at least one shipping in the first half of next year.

In an interview with Mobilized, N-trig Vice President Gary Baum said that adding support for a pressure-sensitive pen like N-trig’s adds about $50 to the cost of the device, but offers advantages like pressure sensitivity and sub-pixel accuracy. But even if companies make the pen an option, adding that support could help them avoid getting lost in the pack and becoming “just another Android slate.”

Whether users value a pen any more on an Android tablet than they have on Windows remains to be seen, however. Another key question is whether software emerges to take advantage of pens.

“To do that, you need more apps, applications that can facilitate drawing and note-taking,” Baum said.

Adobe, though, seems intrigued by the concept. In an interview, Vice President Michael Gough said he has been playing around with various pen-based prototypes and finds the notion very compelling.

Gough, who leads Adobe’s user experience design efforts, said he has carried a Moleskine notebook around for years and has never found a tablet that was thin enough and of high-enough quality to replace old-fashioned pen and ink. With the latest prototypes, Gough said he feels a shift coming.

“The personal computer was actually impersonal,” he said. “The tablet is personal. It’s connected to you. Every time I have to use my laptop I feel it is a compromise.”

As for what software Adobe comes out with and when, Gough said the company will take a somewhat wait-and-see approach.

“I would say that it is obvious that there is going to be an explosion of devices in the coming year,” he said. “Adobe will follow that, I think, just as much as they lead it. It all depends when the devices are in people’s hands.”

Adobe is excited, though, since tablets like the iPad that are mainly for media consumption don’t offer a lot of business for Adobe. Although he isn’t on the business side, Gough said he expects the business model will shift. Instead of selling a big suite of software for several hundred dollars, Gough said, he imagines smaller titles that might offer only a few features, with additional features sold separately.

But cheaper software and the accessibility of tablets might open up more people to trying out creative work, he said.

“One of things that I feel like we did over the past 20 years is convince a whole generation of people they couldn’t draw,” Gough said, noting that software has gotten more powerful, but also harder to learn and use. “What I think is going to happen with these more natural interfaces is we are going to have this explosion of creativity. It could be quite an exciting time.”