Every year when Samsung announces a new Galaxy Note phone I ask myself why it is sticking with the S Pen, the stylus that comes with the super-sized Galaxy Note phones. Indeed, the next Galaxy Note phone, which will debut this autumn, will bring the S Pen back for another go-around.
Surely, this age-old technology – which debuted for most consumers on the Palm Pilot in 1997 – has no place here in 2018.
But I am very wrong. I was stunned to find out that 92 per cent of Galaxy Note 8 owners – the most recent model – are active users of the S Pen, Samsung senior director of smartphone marketing Drew Blackard said. And 73 per cent of those who bought the Note 8 bought the device specifically for the S Pen.
Blackard said Samsung is not disclosing Galaxy Note sales numbers, so it is hard to know in absolute terms how popular the stylus might be. Still, he did tell me that more people in the US pre-ordered the Note 8 when it was announced than any previous Note device.
That is notable because the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the 2016 model, was infamously recalled after several devices overheated and exploded, triggering a global recall.
Still, it shows that there is demand for the Samsung Galaxy Note product line, and it turns out that the majority want it for the S Pen.
With that in mind, it would be misguided for Samsung to drop the S Pen in its Galaxy Note smartphones, no matter how obsolete they may seem. It would disappoint an overwhelming number of S Pen fans on a device that is a “central part” of Samsung's premium device strategy, Blackard said.
So what do these S Pen loyalists know that I do not, and why do they need it so badly?
Sixty per cent of S Pen users continue to use the S Pen and Galaxy Note combo for the simple stuff, like writing down lists and notes – the original allure of the very first Galaxy Note model from 2011. Some might prefer to write down notes with an on-screen keyboard, but others clearly value the S Pen for jotting things down quickly.
And Samsung has made it easier for those users, generation after generation, with better technology in the S Pen itself, like adding higher levels of pressure sensitivity.
The Galaxy Note 8, last year’s model, has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, which helps with accurate handwriting and drawing. Compare that to the first Galaxy Note’s 256. To put that into perspective, a finger tip only has one level or pressure sensitivity. The company also added features like “screen off memo”, where S Pen users do not even need to wake their Note from sleep to write down a note.
“More people are using [the S Pen] for direct communication”, like replying to a text message with a hand-written message, Blackard added.
And the S Pen has evolved to become more of a tool to some Note users. “A lot of people use it for more precise navigation of their phone”, and even for more precision in games, Blackard said. One thing that Blackard often does on a Note device is sign a PDF document and send it right back. It makes me feel like I have been doing it wrong the whole time by printing out the PDF, signing it, scanning it, then sending it back to the sender.
Then there are the “creativity” users who use the S Pen on a Note device for more artistic purposes. Samsung pre-loads its Note devices with an app called Pen Up, basically a sketching social network designed for Galaxy Note and S Pen users. The company has an astounding 400 million users on Pen Up who are creating and sharing their art on the app since it was introduced in the Galaxy Note 3 in 2013. I had no idea people were creating art – or would want to create art – on a smartphone. But they do.
Generally, “it’s really the user who wants to get more done, someone who’s juggling a lot in their life. They’re spending more time on their device than the standard user, and they don’t necessarily want to sit down on their computer to do other tasks”, Blackard said. That comment made me think that perhaps I am not really the smartphone power user I thought I was, and the true power users are the Galaxy Note fans with their S Pens.
For the next Galaxy Note that Samsung is announcing this autumn, Blackard only gave me a couple of hints about what the S Pen will bring. Expect some integration with the camera and better functionality with games. Otherwise, we will have to wait and see.
This article by Antonio Villas-Boas originally appeared on Business Insider.