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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
Contributor

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.

16 Comments
  • Honestly fort the Apple pencil to even make sense on these phone, Apple would have to make a pencil that's just as good but much smaller... Small enough to sit beside the phone and not beer larger than the phone... Small enough not to be awkward when carrying it around with your phone.
  • We all write notes (and some of us doodle) on little paper pads as well as larger pieces of paper and books. I don't see any reason why Pencil support shouldn't be added to *all* Apples products if it's possible from an engineering standpoint. Also, the Pencil is an extra accessory that stands by itself. So there is never going to be a "slot" in any device that it belongs in, and the size of the thing relative to the device is 100% irrelevant. The Pencil is the same size as any real world drawing implement, I wouldn't expect Apple to make a "golf pencil" sized version as it's not necessary and IMO would compromise the design.
  • Wow talk about a 180 on styluses and smartphones.... Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • I believe Steve was referring to using a stylus for navigating the user interface (as in stating the finger is the best pointing device). I think it's undeniable you need a stylus for drawing
  • But if you see a stylus, they blew it. No? Sent from the iMore App
  • Only if they start making phablets as well. Oh.
  • Who needs a stylus? We all got a magical device! Who said that? :| Sent from the iMore App
  • I realize in off topic here but in saying the iPhone 7 has shipped, you're surely meaning the ones that will be on display in a couple of days, right? Slightly misleading I'd say. Sent from the iMore App
  • I took that to mean pallets of phones from China to the warehouses in the U.S. so they are ready for distribution on the 16th or 23rd.
  • Isn't there some option in iMessages on iOS 10 to scribble with your finger and send it? It would make sense if that feature was added with the Apple Pencil in mind. I would love to see it compatible with the Plus at least.
  • Making the Pencil function of the iPhone would be a major plus to me. There has been a lot of talk about this 7 not being much of an upgrade, but if the latest leaks are accurate, it's a "definite buy" for me. Currently have the 6S Plus.
  • They will have to make an industrial design Apple Pen. With a pocket clip like feature. In which rotation/sliding reveals a charging port on the side. Like how ballpens rotate to slide out the nib. Or unscrewing reveals charging port in the middle or at one of the ends, like how Fountain pens get unscrewed to open up for refilling ink.
  • Great explanation and analysis of Apple product decisions. Ultimately, Apple Pencil will work on iPhone, if it continues to be increasingly successful. But I don't expect to see it in today's event.
  • I'm not sure, I think there's a big desire for people able to scribble notes at least on the iPhone. It would probably only be for the Plus model, and Apple really needs to up their game on new features for the iPhone. The iPhone 6 brought bigger screens, the 6S brought 3D Touch and Live Photos. Whilst these are great changes, they don't dramatically change the way you use your iPhone (apart from the bigger screen which was more an inevitable change than a new thing). Having the Pencil on the iPhone would allow people to quickly jot notes, draw on the go, and for people that want to, they could write messages with a handwriting keyboard. That would be a fairly significant change
  • I love Apple Pencil on iPad Pro and I WANT Apple Pencil to work on iPhone. But I don't EXPECT it to happen today [let's hope I'm wrong *fingers crossed*]. It's not as significant a change as the screen size was because screen size affected ALL iPhone users (hence the 6 / 6 Plus quarter was the most profitable in business history). Pencil is for users like you and I. Most of the users don't buy an additional item.
  • Ok, so the Apple event was today. I haven't watched it yet and don't see any reporting of ApplePencil support on the new iPhone 7. If not, I'll pass.