Austin's Adonit success points to a stylus comeback

The stylus maker introduced a new product, the Pixel, this week

The year 2007 may have been the darkest time for the humble stylus, an accessory for writing like a pen and pointing like a mouse on touch screens.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on stage at Macworld 2007, derided the tools as part of the introduction of the first iPhone, which he argued, was perfect to operate with just a finger. "Who wants a stylus?" he mocked, "You have to get 'em and put 'em away and you lose them, YUCK."

Things have gotten a lot better for the stylus since then. A stylus is part of every Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 2DS and 3DS game console sold. The large-screened Samsung Galaxy Note device  comes equipped with one. And last September, much to the glee of tech blogs, Apple backtracked on the Jobs presentation, introducing a writing tool called "Pencil" along with its iPad Pro.

The stylus comeback has been very good for one Austin company, Adonit, which has sold 4.5 million styluses worldwide.

Its devices, which range in price from $12.95 to $79.99, have continued to evolved since the company was founded in 2010. The company has had two successful Kickstarter campaigns, for an iPad keyboard case and for its first stylus, the Jot, which raised $168,532 on a humble $2,500 funding goal.

The keyboard case is no longer sold on Adonit's site, but styluses have been a boon to the business. This week, the company introduced Pixel, a $79.99 Bluetooth stylus that works on the iPad Pro and iPad Air, as well as newer iPhone models.

The device does work on some Android devices, but on iOS apps it works with, such as "Autodesk Sketchbook" and "Goodnotes," it has features including pressure sensitivity (press harder on the screen for a thicker drawing line) and palm rejection, which keeps the device from registering a hand resting on the screen as input.

Rafael Gomez, marketing manager for Adonit, said the company's goal all along has been to make precise drawing and writing instruments and its Jot Kickstarter campaign allowed it to follow through on that goal in Austin.

"We chose it for the tech community and the artist community," Gomez said. "Since then, we've led the space in the stylus."

The company has 15 employees in Austin and about 45 more at a Taiwanese manufacturing and international sales office.  It makes iPad and iPhone cases, but its main business is six models of styluses. Pixel is its first Bluetooth model. Unlike Apple's Pencil, which costs $99, the Pixel works on more iPad models than just the Pad Pro. And it has two programmable buttons, which for drawing can be used for, say, "Undo" and "Redo" functions.

In testing out the Pixel, I was impressed with the pen's good looks (It comes in black and bronze), smooth feel and little touches that become apparent in drawing on an iPad, such as what Gomez describes as the "Drag to the tip" the company gave the Pixel to keep it from feeling too smooth.

"It makes it more like pen on paper," Gomez said. "When you're writing on glass, it can be a little slippery. We made it grippier."

The Bluetooth devices runs for about 15-20 hours on a charge and comes with a small USB charger and mount for the stylus.

Its prime limitation is that while it works as a plain stylus with practically any touch-screen device, its Bluetooth features only work in eight drawing and writing apps as of this writing. "We do expect Adobe and ProCreate to be compatible real soon," Gomez said. The company has a software development kit for app makers who want to incorporate Adonit features into their apps.