As we’ve watched USI pens become more standard in 2020 and finally started seeing some of them actually begin shipping, it is beginning to feel like we’ll have a ton of Chromebooks in the next generation that will have pen support baked in. As we’ve already reported, those devices will all have to support the new USI standard, and that means we might finally start seeing a handful of pens with buttons that can actually do things on our Chromebooks soon.
Right now, we’re tracking two code changes that add some pretty useful features to the humble stylus and should carry over to multiple USI pens. Ideally, we’ll eventually land on a group of actions that pen buttons can invoke and it will be up to the pen maker to decide which of these actions they would like to be part of their pen experience.
The first feature we’re seeing is the ability for pens to call up a right-click or long press a bit easier. Chrome OS handles long press actions as right-clicks when interacting with the touch screen, but those long presses are a tad bit more difficult with a pen tip versus your wider, more-stable fingertip. According to a code commit in the repositories, functionality has been added to stylus buttons to basically accelerate this process and make context menus or other long press actions basically instant if you are holding the button and touch the screen with the pen tip.
Accelerate long press gesture with stylus button
ChromeOS devices currently do not have styluses with buttons, and there is no support for handling stylus button events. In the long term, we will want to make stylus button clicks act as a right mouse click button (open context menu). In the short term, we want to use the stylus button to accelerate the long press gesture.
If the user has the stylus button pressed when touching the screen, or presses it before the long press timeout, generate a long press gesture.via the Chromium Gerrit
As I was writing this post, I figured I’d give it a spin with the Waltop stylus we have here in the office and it works as expected! Trying to pull off a long press with the small pen tip is a hit-or-miss affair, but holding the first button on the pen’s barrel and then tapping the screen immediately calls up the long press context menu. It’s a handy little trick that will help those navigating the UI with the pen instead of their finger tip.
Next up, we’re seeing code added that will hook up the ability for pens to pass a command to open up a new note when a button is pressed. In the language of the commit, you can see that this is a tad different than barrel button actions like what we saw above. This action doesn’t require the pen to be near or in contact with the screen and can call up the notes app as long as the pen is somewhere around the Chromebook when the tail button is pressed.
Allow launching note app with key event
Add a key event handler to the create note action, looking for events with a special flag showing that they were generated by a stylus bluetooth button.
This will allow users to open a new note by double clicking the tail stylus buttonvia the Chromium Gerrit
Ideally, we’ll end up with a handful of new actions for USI pens in the coming months. Obviously this will require developers to set their apps up to listen for these events, but Chromebooks can begin using them immediately on a system level as the Chrome OS team makes these new features available in public releases. Perhaps one day we’ll have a simple mapping tool for our USI pens that we can select actions from and specify what our pen buttons actually do. There’s still work to be done, but with the initial impressions of USI pens being quite solid at this point, I’m confident we’ll see it all in action soon enough.