Apparently, the answer is yes. The company has filed for a patent that they say is a stylus with improved functionality. According to the US Patent & Trademark Office, they have filed a patent for the “Active Stylus” which is basically your ordinary stylus, just with an electrode fitted at the tip. While not aiming to revolutionize the stylus, Apple only aims to improve its accuracy while keeping the price low.
Here is Apple’s summary of the stylus, found in their patent application:
Unlike conventional styluses which work passively by blocking electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel, the styluses disclosed in the various embodiments of this disclosure can either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both. Accordingly, the styluses disclosed herein can be referred to as active styluses in comparison to conventional passive styluses. These active styluses can significantly improve stylus sensing on a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel without incurring significant additional cost.
While the patent application did not make any mention of Apple, the website Patently Apple, learned that the men filing for it are both engineering managers there. As stated in the patent application, the ones who filed are Jonah Harley and David Simon, and their positions at Apple can be confirmed through their LinkedIn profiles. Turns out, Apple allows their engineers to be listed as the inventors so outsiders are not aware of any new things that are being developed.
Another part of the patent application states that:
When a stylus has been used as an input device in a capacitive touch system, the stylus has traditionally been finger-like in nature. A conventional stylus is often simply a conductive rod with a finger-sized rounded tip large enough to disrupt the electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel. As such, conventional styluses are passive input devices in that they are incapable of actively transmitting stimulus signals or sensing a touch-induced capacitance change in a capacitive touch sensor panel.
It seems that Apple has been working in a stylus for years now but their work has never surfaced most likely under the leadership of Steve Jobs. Now that Tim Cook is at the help, they are more likely to come out with their improved stylus since Jobs was known to ridicule the stylus while he was Apple’s CEO. In Jobs’ eyes, a device that came with a stylus was a failure. In an event in 2010, he was even quoted as saying “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”