A team of Korean researchers has been working to make the smartphone experience more spontaneous and intuitive. They have developed a stylus and app which detects the direction and angle at which the stylus is being held and interprets spinning motion.

MagPen: Magnetic Stylus enabling smoother interaction with touchscreens

Styluses for touchscreens are coming back into fashion. Following the smart stylus, which can pick up digital content from one screen and drop it on to another, we now have MagPen, a magnetic stylus which enables more effective and sensitive interaction with a device’s touchscreen. Developed by PhD student Sungjae Hwang, of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon, South Korea, the MagPen app is able to detect the direction in which a magnetised stylus is pointing. It can also select the colour of the writing, recognise and interpret both spinning movements and the degree of finger pressure being applied to the screen, and react to this information. Moreover, it is compatible with almost all smartphones and tablets currently on the market.

Multi-functional and directly operational                                 

As almost all mobile devices offer geolocation services, they incorporate in their circuits magnetometers and the associated electronics that act as a compass. Starting out from this basic facility, Hwang inserted a magnet into the middle of a stylus. When the magnet-equipped pen comes near a mobile device, an installed app uses the integral magnetometer to calculate the distance of the pen from the interface, the angle at which it is being held, where the tip is in relation to the screen, and even the amount of finger pressure being exerted on the screen. The two ends of the stylus provide additional functionality. For example, when the user turns the stylus and switches ends, the pen can become an eraser or change the thickness of the lines being drawn.

Further magnetic gadgets in the pipeline

Once the app designed to accompany the stylus is installed on the smartphone, it can recognise all the MagPens in its vicinity based on their magnetic characteristics. Their owners can then engage in collaborative writing on the same screen by using different colours and various other options provided by the app. MagPen is due to be presented at the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI 2013) taking place in Munich, Germany on 27-30 August. In the near future, Hwang and his team plan to bring out other types of magnetic gadgets, among them a magnetic cover for a smartphone, which provides augmented interaction with the device.

By Ruolin Yang