Back in may of 2019, Gabriel uncovered the first signs of USI coming to Chrome OS. At that time, the term USI was still a new concept to us and we had little prior knowledge of the emerging standard. USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) has been around for quite some time and Google jumped on board with the initiative in January of 2018, but the standard actually began attracting manufacturers all the way back in 2015.
Standards are tough to achieve in the tech world, though, and I’m glad those behind the idea of a universal, widely-compatible stylus technology have stuck it out as long as they have at this point. With players like Samsung and Apple having spent years on their proprietary pen solutions, it can be very difficult to get anyone to agree to compromise in any way on support for more generic hardware.
If you take a look at the USI homepage, however, you’ll note many big companies now on board, and we’re starting to finally see the fruits of this labor in the Chrome OS world here at CES 2020. Important, new Chrome OS hardware will be shipping early this year with support for USI pens and that means consumers will be able to simply select the pen they want, go buy it, and it will work on any supported device. Really, the biggest issue when those devices launch will be the current lack of USI pens available for purchase right now, but we’re hearing assurances that many options are on the way soon.
The wonderful ASUS Chromebook Flip C436, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, and one other yet-to-be-announced Chromebook we can’t discuss yet all support USI pens. This comes in addition to the two devices launched in fall of 2019 by HP (Chromebook x360 14b and 12b) that also support the standard. These devices and presumably more that will follow point us to a very interesting future for Chromebooks where perhaps buying a device won’t have to come with the question of whether or not a pen is supported or not. You’ll just need to know whether it comes in the box.
It also means manufacturers can start taking the time to make good 3rd-party pens as well that support USI. Consumers may feel much more inclined to purchase a nice, digital pen if they know that its functionality will extend past the singular device they bought it for. It’s like buying a nice backpack or battery charger. I don’t buy those things only for the devices I have: I buy them for the devices I have and will have in the future. Knowing I’m buying a device that can stay with me for years means I’m willing to pay a bit more for something that will be nice to use and will last. I think the same phenomenon could happen with these pens.
If I’m a person interested enough in a digital pen to go and buy one, I’m likely going to continue to want to use it regardless of the laptop I have. Just like other peripherals I carry from device to device, we could be finally entering a time where you buy a nice pen just like your nice mouse and keyboard and that pen becomes part of your accessory collection and used across all the devices you find yourself working with on a daily basis. CES 2020 is bringing us much closer to that reality than we’ve ever been with Chromebooks, and that is exciting for sure.