Years before Apple came out with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, very few companies dared to oppose what the late Steve Jobs said about styluses, that nobody would want them. In 2012, a startup named FiftyThree launched not only an award-winning Paper sketchbook app exclusively for the iPad then nascent but also a popular Pencil stylus. Now six years later, the company is no more, having been acquired by someone you least expected: cloud-based file transfer company WeTransfer.
Despite having a laudable app and pioneering stylus, FiftyThree’s name probably wouldn’t have had the same impact had it not been linked to Microsoft’s stillborn project, the Courier. A number of the startup’s founders came from that axed project and aimed to bring a semblance of that creativity and productivity to the platform that would welcome them and make them money. While a far cry from what Courier would have been, Paper still managed to endear itself to iPad and later iPhone users over the years.
In a way, it was probably better than FiftyThree completely shutting down. Ever since its hit products, the iPad world has been flooded with note-taking and painting apps, even those that used just your finger, as well as Bluetooth-powered pressure sensitive styluses like those from Adonit. Needless to say, Paper and Pencil had some tough competition but the biggest blow came from the very same company that gave it an award.
In 2015, not only did Apple launch the iPad Pro, it also launched its own Jobs-defying stylus, the Apple Pencil. By 2016, FiftyThree had stopped making and selling its own Pencil. The impact on the company was not trivial. Speaking to WIRED, co-founder and CEO George Petschnigg admitted that “FiftyThree was not profitable at the time of the acquisition.”
Still, it’s odd that FiftyThree would sell to WeTransfer. The two couldn’t be farther apart in terms of audiences. Petschnigg explains it more as a similarity in business culture and vision, giving creatives the space and tools to get their job done and offering privacy-respecting freemium versions of apps. For now, the FiftyThree team will stay on board and both Paper and relatively new slideshow-centric Paste apps will be available as normal. How long that will last remains to be seen.