Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2 and the missing support on Linux

The following was debugged and discovered by Benjamin Tissoires, I'm merely playing the editor and publisher. All credit and complimentary beverages go to him please.

Wacom recently added two interesting products to its lineup: the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 and the Bamboo Stylus Fineline. Both are styli only, without the accompanying physical tablet and they are marketed towards the Apple iPad market. The basic idea here is that touch location is provided by the system, the pen augments that with buttons, pressure and whatever else. The tips of the styli are 2.9mm (Creative Stylus 2) and 1.9mm (Bamboo Fineline), so definitely smaller than your average finger, and smaller than most other touch pens. This could of course be useful for any touch-capable Linux laptop, it's a cheap way to get an artist's tablet. The official compatibility lists the iPads only, but then that hasn't stopped anyone in the past.

We enjoy a good relationship with the Linux engineers at Wacom, so naturally the first thing was to ask if they could help us out here. Unfortunately, the answer was no. Or more specifically (and heavily paraphrased): "those devices aren't really general purpose, so we wouldn't want to disclose the spec". That of course immediately prompted Benjamin to go and buy one.

From Wacom's POV not disclosing the specs makes sense and why will become more obvious below. The styli are designed for a specific use-case, if Wacom claims that they can work in any use-case they have a lot to lose - mainly from the crowd that blames the manufacturer if something doesn't work as they expect. Think of when netbooks were first introduced and people complained that they weren't full-blown laptops, despite the comparatively low price...

The first result: the stylus works on most touchscreens (and Benjamin has a few of those) but not on all of them. Specifically, the touchscreen on the Asus N550JK didn't react to it. So that's warning number 1: it may not work on your specific laptop and you probably won't know until you try.

Pairing works, provided you have a Bluetooth 4.0 chipset and your kernel supports it (tested on 3.18-rc3). Problem is: you can connect the device but you don't get anything out of it. Why? Bluetooth LE. Let's expand on that: Bluetooth LE uses the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT). The actual data is divided into Profiles, Services and Characteristics, which are clearly named by committee and stand for the general topic, subtopic/item and data point(s). So in the example here the Profile is Heart Rate Profile, the Service is Heart Rate Measurement and the Characteristic is the actual count of "lub-dub" on your ticker [1]. All are predefined. Again, why does this matter? Because what we're hoping for is the Hid Service or the Hid over GATT Service service. In both cases we could then use the kernel's uhid module to get the stylus to work. Alas, the actual output of the device is:

[bluetooth]# info C5:37:E8:73:57:BE
Device C5:37:E8:73:57:BE
      Name: Stylus1
      Alias: Stylus1
      Appearance: 0x0341
      Paired: yes
      Trusted: yes
      Blocked: no
      Connected: yes
      LegacyPairing: no
      UUID: Vendor specific (00001523-1212-efde-1523-785feabcd123)
      UUID: Generic Access Profile (00001800-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Generic Attribute Profile (00001801-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Device Information (0000180a-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Battery Service (0000180f-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Vendor specific (6e400001-b5a3-f393-e0a9-e50e24dcca9e)
      Modalias: usb:v056Ap0329d0001
So we can see GAP and GATT, Device Information and Battery Service (both predefined) and 2 Vendor specific profiles (i.e. "magic fairy dust"). And this is where Benjamin got stuck - each of these may have a vendor-specific handshake, protocol, etc. And it's not even sure he'll be able to set the device up so it talks to him. So warning number 2: you can see and connect the device, but it'll talk gibberish (or nothing).

Now, it's probably possible to reverse engineer that if you have sufficient motivation. We don't. The Bluetooth spec is available though, once you work your way through that you can start working on the vendor specific protocol which we know nothing about.

Last but not least: the userspace component. The device itself is not ready-to-use, it provides pressure but you'd still have to associate it with the right touch point. That's not trivial, especially in the presence of other touch points (the outside of your hand while using the stylus for example). So we'd need to add support for this in the X drivers and libinput to make it work. Wacom and/or OS X presumably solved this for iPads, but even there it doesn't just work. The applications need to support it and "You do have to do some digging to figure out to connect the stylus to your favorite art apps -- it's a different procedure for each one, but that's common among these styluses." That's something we wouldn't do the same way on the Linux desktop. So warning number 3: if you can make the kernel work, it won't work as you expect in userspace, and getting it to work is a huge task.

Now all that pretty much boils down to: is it worthwhile? Our consensus so far was "no". I guess Wacom was right in holding back the spec after all. These devices won't work on any tablet and even if they would, we don't have anything in the userspace stack to actually support them properly. So in summary: don't buy the stylus if you plan to use it in Linux.

[1] lub-dub is good. ta-lub-dub is not. you don't want lub-dub-ta. wikipedia

1 comment:

Jan Alexander Steffens said...

I suppose you'd need some kind of timing analysis to link up a new touch on the touch screen with the pen that just reported increasing pressure.