After our conversation today with USI Chairman Peter Mueller over on The Chrome Cast, there’s a part of the USI (universal stylus initiative) narrative that has been clarified for me that is quite exciting and I’m so glad to be able to share a bit more detail. To this point, the only USI pens we’ve seen are full-sized pens that are meant to live as outer extensions to the Chromebook experience. While pens like these are great to hold, they aren’t always the most practical to keep around. After all, the best pen is the one you have on you at the time, and internally-stowed pens are the ones that find themselves ready for use at a moment’s notice.
I’ve made this argument often and while I’ve appreciated the growing number of Chromebooks that support the USI standard, the fact that this means you have to figure out a storage solution for that supported pen means that the times I need my pen, I usually don’t have it close by. I’m not an artist or a person who loves handwriting, so my pen is only useful for tasks like signing documents or marking up notes on an image or draft of a document. The cases for me to get my pen out are not that numerous, so most times I keep the pen in my bag and when the time comes where I might use it, it isn’t always within reach. This is why I love a stowed stylus option.
And this is precisely why I asked Peter about this ‘issue’ during our conversation today. Worried that USI pens would always be the larger, free-floating pens we’ve seen thus far, I was dubious that such a pen solution would ever make sense for users like me. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. According to Pete, with USI, the protocol is light enough and power-efficient enough that we should begin seeing Chromebooks with internally-stowed pens in the next generation of devices. While the USI standard does need a bit of power to do all of its magic, a rechargeable pen can get juice when stored inside the Chromebook and always be ready for use when the user needs it.
Apart from our conversation today, we’ve previously found commits pointing to stowed stylus support for some AMD ‘Zork’ Chromebooks, but nothing pointing to this feature for Chromebooks in the more affordable range. That has changed, however, and we’ve now found proof of internal USI pen storage/charging on at least one ‘Dedede’ Chromebook derivative in ‘Drawcia’ that we just added to our master list of upcoming Chromebook devices we are tracking. The commit is pretty straightforward, but you can see it below along with the commit that shows USI pen support for the same baseboard:
UPSTREAM: mb/google/dedede/var/drawcia: Add elan USI touchscreenvia the Chromium Gerrit
drawcia: enable stylus charging Drawcia has garage stylus, this patch enables stylus charging when stylus present.via the Chromium Gerrit
There are two very cool things happening, here. First, we’re seeing more support for stowable, rechargeable USI pens. Pens that have a recharge method and can be kept safe inside a Chromebook are the right option in my opinion. Users can always opt to buy an additional, larger USI pen if they want one, but having the built-in stylus always at the ready is obviously a nice touch. Second, we’re not just seeing this in a flagship device. ‘Dedede’ Chromebooks like ‘Drawcia’ will be small-core Intel devices that generally come in at lower prices, so you can count on internal pens becoming more normalized for even the most affordable Chromebooks once these begin showing up.
For me, this development and the ease of use we’ve seen in the first working USI pen we have in the office combine to make me all-in on USI pens for Chromebooks and any other device that begins using them. Standards are good in many cases, and I’d argue that a standard pen for electronics is one of those spaces. I love – LOVE – the idea that one day down the road I may be able to pick up my USI pen and begin writing or navigating on any device I have in front of me. Chromebook, Windows laptop, Android phone/tablet? Sure. One day it will all just work, and I’m very much looking forward to that.