Blog Post

New Kickstarter Project Redesigns the Stylus for the iPad Crowd

UPDATED. If you’re looking for the right stylus to use with your iPad (s aapl), a new Kickstarter project might have the best option available — and at the best price, too, since what you end up paying is ultimately up to you thanks to an unusual funding decision. The Cosmonaut is a new project from the makers of The Glif iPhone 4 tripod mount, and takes a smart new approach to iPad stylus design.

The Cosmonaut is the first iPad stylus design I’ve seen that really takes into account the unique restrictions and concerns of using a stylus in combination with a large, capacitive touchscreen. I own a few different iPad-compatible styli, but the Pogo Sketch from Ten One Design is my weapon of choice. Even though it’s my preferred tool, that doesn’t make it necessarily a great one. I still have plenty of issues with the screen reading my palm as confusing secondary input, and using the iPad as one would a traditional pen and pad combo just doesn’t work (though some apps provide automatic wrist detection, making it a little bit easier).

Unlike the Pogo Sketch and many other similar iPad styli, the Cosmonaut doesn’t take the pen as its design inspiration; instead, it looks to the whiteboard marker. It’s a concept that Cosmonaut co-creator Dan Provost made a reality back in November with his own DIY build, and one that he and partner Tom Gerhardt clearly saw long-term value in. Provost argues that writing on an iPad doesn’t resemble using a pen because of low-fidelity, and because wresting your palm on the device’s surface is a no-no. Instead, it pretty accurately mirrors how we use whiteboards, ie. for quick and dirty recording of ideas and info. Artists definitely are capable of creating masterpieces on the iPad, but for most users, the point is to get an idea sketched out quickly without much attention given to the finer points.

I also like that the Cosmonaut seems to have a small rubber tip, as opposed to the traditional felt-style ones that are used on most current capacitive styli. And just like the Glif, this new stylus design looks like an amazing study in simple, elegant, product engineering that emphasizes extreme usability.

As a Kickstarter-backed project, the Cosmonaut will require the commitment of individual backers to reach its funding goal. This time around, Provost and Gerhardt tried a slightly different approach to the one used by most Kickstarter projects. Instead of setting thresholds with different rewards for each level ($25 secures you a pre-order, $45 scores you two, etc.), they’re asking investors to put up whatever they think the device is worth. Any amount over $1 nets a pre-order of the Cosmonaut, though the final retail price will be around $25. It’s a very interesting experiment, especially given that the reward is limited to 3,000 backers, meaning that if everyone pledges the bare minimum, the project’s $50,000 funding target definitely won’t be met.

It’s a risky strategy, but one that should prove a telling glimpse into what kind of premium people put on good design. Check out the video below of the product in action and think about what you’d pay for such a device. If you feel like sharing that figure in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think.

Update: I reached out to Dan and Tom, and they responded to my questions just after this article published. Here are the questions I sent, and their responses in full:

TAB: Why go with the pay-what-you-want model this time around? What happens if you hit your backer limit before you hit your funding goal?

Tom: Dan and I decided to try a pay-what-you-want model because we were interested in the social aspects of it, and we wanted to give back to the Kickstarter community. If we reach our backer limit, but have not met our funding goal, we think a very interesting dynamic will build from the backers of the project. Will there be advocates? Will there be big contributors who tip the balance? Will the price go above, below, above the funding goal? We’ll see, but it will be an exciting first for the web.

TAB: What did your success with the Glif teach you about Kickstarter-funded projects, and has what you learned affected what you’re doing this time around with the Cosmonaut?

Tom: The Glif taught us that you can never be too simple. Although we strove for simplicity with the Glif, we still managed to confuse some of our backers, so this time around we tried to keep it dead simple. We also leaned to never underestimate the power and generosity of the crowd, so this time around we put our full trust in them.

TAB: On the back of the Glif’s success, you probably could’ve easily secured more traditional VC funding for this project. Why go back to Kickstarter?

Tom: Dan and I want to maintain our direct relationship with our customers, really our collaborators. So for us, Kickstarter makes perfect sense. They let us know how they like the product, we keep them informed through the process, and they keep us honest. All of which we lose through VC.