Introducing Pencil by FiftyThree: A Stylus That’s Been Designed Down to the Last Detail


    In the early chapters of The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, Henry Petroski speculates about the uncertain origin of a certain species of writing implement, proceeding to chronicle a fascinating (albeit at-times long-winded) account of its eponymous subject matter. A civil engineer by training and professor by trade, the author takes the pencil as a vehicle for tracing a loose history of his chosen profession over the course of some 300-pages.

    As in Petroski's account, FiftyThree's latest product represents far more than the everyday object that sits on or in our desk. Its name and form factor transcend mere etymology and superficial skeuomorphism: "Pencil" captures the very essence of its namesake—typically the first tool that we use in earnest as a means of recording words and drawings—a stylus that significantly expands the power of their breakthrough app, Paper. But beyond a tightly integrated hardware-software ecosystem, Pencil marks a first step towards smarter accessories in general.

    FiftyThree-Pencil_Walnut-HERO.jpg"We really want the materials to be authentic—it's a big part of our brand, craftsmanship and authenticity." -Jon Harris

    Pixels, in some ways, represent a digital equivalent of graphite—discrete pigment deposited on a virtual surface, which can be restored to its original state by erasing these particles. If the physical evidence of a Dixon Ticonderoga consists of an infinitesimal amount of matter transferred from one object to another, then the digital machinations behind, say, the brush tool (in your sketching software of choice) is even less tangible. With their first product, Paper, a versatile drawing app, FiftyThree harnessed this unseen magic to reveal the potential of the iPad as a mobile creativity device.

    But the artifact itself endures, and that much was clear at FiftyThree's New York HQ last week, where co-founders Georg Petschnigg and Andrew Allen offered us a hands-on demo of the production version of Pencil, which launches this very morning; Director of Hardware John Ikeda and Design Co-Founder Jon Harris are also on the line via videochat from Seattle. The handsome Bluetooth-enabled stylus comes in sustainably-sourced walnut and black brushed aluminum, and it's hard to decide which one is superior. Ikeda clearly prefers the former: "We try not to coat or treat the wood too heavily—just enough to protect it from humidity and those kinds of thing—but what's really nice about them is that after a handling them for a while, they take on their own character."

    FiftyThree-Pencil_Walnut-material.jpgLike many of his colleagues at FiftyThree, including the three co-founders, Ikeda previously worked at Microsoft: "We always wanted to build a product that we could describe with the word 'patina!'"