Apple Pencil and the iPhone 7

The iPhone 7 has just begun landing to U.S. shores in advance of its introduction this week. It's too late to make any changes. It has, very literally, shipped. As always, the phone was subject to a fair amount of rumors; this year, speculation centered around the removal of the iPhone's headphone jack and a fancy new dual-lens camera system. Perhaps just as interesting, though, is the question of Apple Pencil support.

John Gruber, writing on Daring Fireball:

If you watch the video [of Tim Cook's interview with NDTV's Vikram Chandra back in May], what Cook actually said is slightly different from the transcript, and suggests even more strongly that the pencil works with iPhone. Starting around the 29:10 mark, he says, "If you've ever seen what can be created with that pencil on an iPad or an iPhone, it's really unbelievable."

I'd love to see Apple Pencil make it to iPhone 7, especially iPhone 7 Plus. It would be like Field Notes with iCloud sync.

If you're not familiar with Apple Pencil, it's a pressure sensitive stylus-like tool that remains, for my money, the best digital writing and drawing implement the industry has ever seen. (Take a look at Serenity Caldwell's review of Apple Pencil, using Apple Pencil to see why.)

Apple Pencil made its debut alongside the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, transforming Apple's biggest tablet ever into a true virtual art book. iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were announced at the same event, but without Apple Pencil support. That's not unusual; Apple typically showcases — and tests — new technology in a single product before deploying it across the line.

3D Touch

iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus also introduced a different form of pressure sensitivity — 3D Touch. Where Apple Pencil combined sensors and Bluetooth in the tool with high resolution, high refresh sensors in the display to transfer and interpret a while variety of data, including pressure and angle, 3D Touch used deformation of the screen itself, measured by the LED backlight, to detect pressure alone.

Just like the iPhones 6s didn't get Apple Pencil support, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro — and the 9.7-inch version that followed it — didn't get 3D Touch.

It's possible the two technologies don't play nicely together, given Pencil's own unique way of detecting pressure. It's also possible the larger — and much larger — iPad-size screens made it difficult or impossible for the LEDs to measure deformation (pressure) accurately enough. It's also possible 3D Touch was meant as a navigation solution for the the iPhone's mostly single-column interface paradigm, something the dual-column iPad didn't need.

For owners of both, it'd be easier to make 3D Touch habitual if it were present on both. Yet peeking and popping at messages has little value when you can already see the list and the details, side by side, on the same screen. And even though Apple often pushes a new technology across the line, the company is also happy to let different products be different.

The Pencil

Putting my Apple Pencil next to my iPhone 6s Plus, I'm struck by how long the Apple Pencil is. By contrast, the Wacom-like stylus on the Samsung Galaxy Note series is small enough to slide into the phone itself for easy storage.

In other words, the current Apple Pencil seems like a product physically designed for the iPad's scale, not iPhone scale. But the company can (and does) prototype everything. There are almost certainly screens within Apple of every size that work brilliantly with Apple Pencil, and Apple Pencil versions that work brilliantly with every screen size.

Cook is one of the few people in the world with access to the full spectrum of Apple products, exploratory and imminent. The question is, which one is Apple Pencil for iPhone, and when?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.