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Is the pen still mightier than the stylus?

3 min read

Could crayolas replace an expensive Apple pencil over time?

Spotting a post on the BBC website about a piece of tech that can convert the strokes of any pen or pencil into a digital file, a friend asked me whether the crayon should not be kept sacred and away from the perils of electronic data capture. I started to agree and then caught myself. Yes, I would prefer my children to pull out a bunch of pencils and doodle/play noughts and crosses/design fine spaceships on paper when we’re waiting for the pizzas to arrive rather than ask me for another go on the iPad. I know that there are great apps for the iPad that stimulate all kinds of skills and creativity – we’ve got some of them – and I know that some great pieces of visual art, creative design and practical engineering are entirely down to the quality of digital technology and software that have been around for decades. 

However, the personal and tactile qualities of a piece of paper and a bunch of pencils still give me more pleasure from both the process and the end product. The environmental creds of pen and paper over iPads aren’t something I’ve got a good enough handle on, and anyway we have both. We’ve also got mounds of pieces of paper with all kinds of daubs, sketches and maps on them that collectively record the progress of two small boys from an  unconstrained 1yr old giving it everything with hand prints to a patient 9 yr old repeating every detail of Thunderbird 1. I would not change it for the world. However it would be easier if we could get those shelves back, and paper does collect a lot of dust. Perhaps we would go through those pictures to remind ourselves of the pleasures of creating them more often if we could flip between images with a simple stroke of a finger across a touch sensitive screen. 

Stop. We had the choice and we decided to go with paper and pencil. Now, so this article was telling me, we could have both the hard copy and the digital copy. Golly – more choice. In the round more choice is good, although I have some unfashionable ideas about choice in education which place standards above options; more on that another time perhaps. Back at the point, why shouldn’t Crayolas become replacements for an expensive Apple Pencil (see stylus) over time? What is wrong with being able to show distant relatives the creative products of a fervent young (or not so young) mind in real time over the web? I don’t have to want this for it to be a good thing. What I want is often a long way from what other people want after all. So for all the protections that I want to throw around special things and special people and places, the crayon is not in danger from this gizmo or any other like it. In fact, the crayon could be getting the boost that takes it into the next decade with a bigger market – for who doesn’t prefer that genuine sensation of friction and the control of tone and turn from holding something that makes a true mark on paper in their hand. If it can simultaneously write to a file then we get the best of both worlds.

Atom is also about choice and preference. We are learning and innovating every day to find faster, cheaper and more personal ways for people and businesses to get the banking that they want. Applying intelligence and emotion are important parts of getting this right because, just like anything else where the market is competitive, the customer doesn’t have to buy.