For those who know FiftyThree mostly for its iPad app, it might seem a little surprising that the company would want to sell hardware. After all, the company has seen more than 100 million pages created in Paper. And after receiving Apple’s App Of The Year Award and the Apple Design Award (not to mention a Crunchie), you’d think it would continue improving its software offerings.
But FiftyThree has said that it wanted to develop new products, many of its early team had come out of Microsoft’s hardware division. More importantly for FiftyThree, the release of Pencil is really just about providing one more tool for unlocking creativity.
“From the beginning, we formed the company around software, hardware, and web services,” FiftyThree co-founder Andrew Allen told me. “Even before we released Paper, we were working on hardware.”
Now, after about two years of hard work, its first hardware device is finally ready for release.
FiftyThree’s Pencil comes in two different SKUs: The “Walnut” model, which is priced at $59.95 and made from sustainable Wisconsin hardwood, as well as the “Graphite” model, which is made of brushed aluminum and will sell at $49.95. Both will be available on FiftyThree’s online shop and include a chiseled tip for drawing on the iPad screen and an eraser to correct mistakes. The can be charged by USB in under 90 minutes.
The device is designed to work directly with the company’s Paper app, and to give users more control over the things that they create on its canvas. Pencil communicates with the app after a simple, two-second “kiss-to-pair” connection, which syncs up the Bluetooth-enabled device and enables users to start drawing.
Pencil unlocks new features and enables new types of creation. When connected, the app rejects palm movements against the tablet, allowing users to draw smoothly — just as they would if they were holding a pencil, pen, or paintbrush. They can also blend colors directly on the page using their fingers, or fix mistakes with Pencil’s eraser.
The product is designed to work specifically with Paper, and purchasing Pencil will unlock Paper’s tool set. But it also works just as well as a stylus on any touchscreen device. What’s more — the FiftyThree team would like to release an SDK that would allow third-party developers to also take advantage of the device.
Pencil isn’t the first product that FiftyThree has produced blending digital creativity with the real world. Last month it partnered with notebook maker Moleskine to bring its users creations to life. And it’s unlikely to be the last, as the company finds new ways to promote user creativity.
FiftyThree now has 29 employees between its offices in New York City and Seattle. Over the summer it raised a $15 million round of funding from Andreessen Horowitz, with new-ish a16z partner Chris Dixon leading the deal. That round also included participation from Highline Ventures, Thrive Capital, SV Angel, and Jack Dorsey.