Some of the most popular styluses, such as Apple Pencil and Samsung S-Pen, are only compatible with their respective manufacturer’s devices. But USI hopes to change that. So here’s what you need to know about the standard and what USI styluses offer you.
A stand for styluses
While the advent of modern capacitive touchscreen devices, especially the iPhoneresulted in styluses been falling out of favor for a few years now, this input device is still doing well. Styluses are getting support on more devices than ever. After all, they offer a precision that is simply not possible with fingers.
You will mainly find two types of styluses on the market: active and passive. Passive styluses are basically a finger replacement. As a result, they work on most capacitive display devices, but are not very useful. On the other hand, active styluses are much more advanced and include features like pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and more. Therefore, they are limited to devices that support their stylus protocol.
As a result, the active stylus market is fragmented. You can’t just buy an excellent stylus and expect it to work on all your touchscreen devices, even if they support stylus input.
However, USI or Universal Stylus Initiative aims to change this problem. It is an industry group that develops and maintains an open standard for interoperable active styluses. It provides a standard signaling mechanism and communication protocol for styluses and touchscreen devices.
Any stylus that meets this standard is called a USI stylus. And it works with any USI-enabled touchscreen device, regardless of platform, manufacturer, or form factor. So basically, whether you buy a USI stylus or get it bundled with your device, it will work with any USI device.
Which devices support USI?
From May 2022, USI technology will be available on dozens of Chromebooks from Acer, Asus, CTL, HP, Lenovo, NEC and Samsung. You can find a relatively current list of all USI-enabled Chromebooks on the Chromium project website†
Likewise, dozens of USI styluses are available from Logitech, J5Create, HP, Lenovo, Penoval, and more.
Aside from Chromebooks, USI has not been widely implemented on other devices. One of the reasons for this is the lack of support from Apple and Microsoft, as these two companies are responsible for some of the world’s largest platforms.
Penoval USI702 Stylus
This Penoval pen is an excellent USI certified stylus that supports 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and USB-C charging. Plus, it comes with a tail wiper for convenience.
The USI specification:
The USI 1.0 specification, which defines the first release of the standard in 2016, including the essential active stylus functions. It supported 256 colors, 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, and nine-axis inertia measurement. But for nearly six years, the USI specification saw no changes. As a result, from May 2022 you will only find styluses and devices with support for USI 1.0 on the market.
However, the next version of the specification, USI 2.0, was: finally unveiled in February 2022† It brings some exciting but optional improvements to the specification. One of the highlights is support for wireless charging using NFC† This means that NFC-enabled devices can charge the USI styluses wirelessly, eliminating the need for a AAAA batteries or clunky USB charging connectors.
In addition, the USI 2.0 specification expands the color palette from 256 colors to over 16 million colors and improves the tilt function. Finally, it offers support for in-cell displays.
In-cell is a technology found on some touchscreen displays that removes the layer of glass between the display stack and touch elements to make the overall screen thinner. Support for in-cell display allows USI technology to be implemented on a wider range of devices.
The first devices and styluses with the USI 2.0 specification are expected to be rolled out in 2022.
Advantages over traditional active styluses
The USI standard offers several advantages over traditional active styluses. Unlike the traditional active styluses, which only support one-way communication, stylus to device, USI supports two-way communication. Thus, both the stylus and the touchscreen device can talk to each other, enabling updating parameters in the stylus from the device or loading saved parameters from the stylus to the device.
For example, a USI stylus can remember your ink color or stroke preference from one device and transfer it to another USI-compatible device.
USI also offers multi-pen support, similar to multi-touch on your phone. So USI enabled displays can record simultaneous input of multiple styluses. This is especially useful with large screen products such as interactive whiteboard displays.
In addition, USI styluses do not need to be paired. You choose a USI pen and it just works.
Do you need a USI stylus?
As of now, unless you own a Chromebook that supports the USI protocol, a USI stylus is of little use. It will not work on touchscreen devices that do not support the USI protocol, such as: iPads and Microsoft Surface devices.
Although at the time of writing it has been almost three years since the the first USI styluses became available, the standard is not widely used outside of Chromebooks. And unless USI moves beyond Chromebooks, USI styluses will eventually become a niche product, far from their hopes of becoming universal styluses. However, you may be able to influence change by investing in a USI-compatible Chromebook.