Hey, folks! It's been a few days, for which I apologize—I managed to get a hold of an Apple Pencil on Wednesday, and all writing time got thrown out the window in favor of some heavy-duty stylus testing. If you're an artist looking forward to hearing more about the iPad Pro, this is the journaling day for you.
But before we get to my excitement over styluses, I first had to do some cheating to record a podcast for my friends at Relay.fm.
On podcast cheating (and the iPad's lack of audio controls)
The iPad Pro has one big, gaping hole in its mission statement when it comes to my personal professional use case: audio controls. There are a fair amount of great iOS apps for editing and working with already-recorded audio; Six Colors' Jason Snell edited an entire The Incomparable podcast on his last week, for example.
But when it comes to actually being live on a podcast, or recording said podcast, iOS runs into more than a bit of trouble. Currently, the operating system only supports single-stream audio input and output: This means that a video in Safari can't play audio at the same time as Music. (It's also why, on your iPhone, your music cuts out when you open the Camera app.)
The same is true for input: You can only input audio to one program. If I record audio in GarageBand, that audio won't come through to listeners in Skype; if I Periscope something, I can't simultaneously record the audio in another app.
There are apps like Audiobus that attempt to fix this problem and provide a pass-through, but apps have to support it—and Skype does not.
Right now, the best way to record a remote podcast is to use two devices, old-school film style: run a recording app on your iPhone with your good microphone plugged in, and run Skype, Hangouts, or your other podcast application of choice on the iPad Pro. You'll get the good-quality audio for your recording, but that comes at the expense of passable default sound for your Skype and Hangout participants.
I hate everything about this. It screams "clunky!", and doesn't feel like something I should be forced to do in the era of iPad Pro. Apps have come so far in the age of multitasking and cooperation, and I've been loving iOS 9's split screen features. But when you introduce audio recording or multi-stream playback into the equation, you fall back to the dark ages of silos and silence.
So I cheated.
Well, sort of. I am running this iPad Pro experiment to see if it can replace my laptop computer, after all; my iMac has all my high-end audio recording equipment on it, and I traditionally use it for all my podcasts.
So I opened up Edovia's Screens (opens in new tab), fired up my Mac from my iPad, and used my tablet to control my mics and Skype conversation.
Okay, yeah, so it's cheating. But the iPad currently can't record multi-track Skype conversations, and because I was guest-starring on Upgrade, I didn't want to call in with shoddy iPad default audio.
On the upside, it allowed me to test out Screens on the iPad Pro. The VNC client has long been one of my favorite iPad apps: It works with incredibly low latency to let me access my Mac's screen from anywhere in the world. I use it constantly when I'm traveling across the country to grab files from my desktop, or adjust my media server. On the iPad Pro, the 21-inch screen looks gorgeous, and it feels almost manageable to use the computer without zooming in on parts of the screen.
It also returns me to the core of this iPad Pro experiment: The Pro may be able to replace my laptop, but I'm a Mac user to my core. I love my "truck" of a computer for all sorts of things—compositing and Final Cut Pro editing, if nothing else—and it's staying on my desk for quite some time.
As such, a big part of this experiment is not just how well the Pro replaces my laptop uses, but how it can integrate with the other technology in my life. This week excepted, I'm usually the kind of person who swaps between desktop and laptop frequently: Can the Pro work with that sort of lifestyle better than my laptop can?
I'm suspecting it might.
All that said, I'm not going for that sort of podcast insanity again: During the podcast, I bought a Shure MV51 (opens in new tab) for any future podcasting needs (including those of the iMore show later this week). I'm also going down to Florida for Thanksgiving and currently planning on bringing just the iPad Pro; no Mac can save me there. Instead, I'll suffer through the iPad-and-iPhone combo recording slog. For science!
Post-Relay show, I ended up doing a Google Hangouts-based iMore Show with Rene directly on the iPad—with, yes, default audio. In all honesty, I was mostly curious to see if I could join a Hangout On-Air from iOS and have it work reliably.
Experiment: Success! The Hangouts app hasn't been optimized, which stinks, and you can't split-screen apps nor use picture-in-picture to go to other programs. But joining Hangouts On-Air worked well.
One hardware annoyance: Trying to do a hangout and look at a camera on the left side of the screen is... weird. I'm so used to the camera at the top of the screen that the side-glancing is bizarre. Thankfully, Hangouts allowed me to reduce and reposition my call within the app itself, so I moved Rene's video feed over to the left side of the screen. It's not perfect, but a good substitute.
Drawing, writing, and drawing some more
Before I found out I'd be able to score a Pencil on Wednesday, I was still knee-deep in styluses. To prep for the Pencil's eventual arrival, I spent an inordinate amount of time sketching with my former top stylus picks for the iPad. For those curious, the top contenders in my arsenal:
On hand, I had 53's Pencil, Ten One's Pogo Connect 2, Adonit's Jot Dash, Studio Neat's Cosmonaut, and the Wacom Bamboo Alpha to do some testing. And, for a control group: I threw in an actual 8x11 sketchpad and a 4B pencil, too.
Throughout five years of iPad stylus testing, I've never been able to find a stylus that perfectly and comfortably replicates the feeling of drawing in a sketchbook. Precision and lag are the top two triggers: If a stylus can't repeatedly trace a small line—or does so slowly enough that I can't figure out how to continue my drawing—it breaks the illusion. And the illusion is a very precarious one.
Even Wacom's Intuos and Cintiq line, largely considered to be the gold standard when it comes to drawing digitally, feel like drawing with plastic on glass. No digital art company has come close to replicating the true feel of paper on pen; instead, they work as hard as possible to style the drawing experience, instead. If the software creates realistic enough lines that replicate your experience with paper, your brain ignores the strange feeling of drawing on glass.
I say all that so that you might understand: It's not that all the third-party iPad styluses have been bad. A lot of them provide decent accuracy for writing, even at smaller sizes, and great artists have done many wonderful things with them.
But after the first few rounds of iPads and styluses, the tech press and artists alike silently acknowledged that no pen would come close to touching Wacom's legacy without input from Apple itself. The iPad's screen was designed for fingers, not pens; and for a stylus to work properly, it had to pretend to be a finger-sized input device while trying to go for accuracy. Have fun with that compromise, designers!
As a result, the Jot Dash is an excellent on-the-go writing tool if you want precision but no pressure-sensitivity. The Cosmonaut's one of my favorite styluses for party doodling, and kids love it. 53's Pencil provides an extra level of brilliance to the company's already wonderful sketching app. The Pogo Connect offers lovely pressure-sensitivity across a bunch of apps with its SDK, and a couple of different brush nibs to try to replicate different pen "feels".
But none of them are game-changers. They're like keyboards for an iPad mini: Largely functional, but with major constraints. And while serious artists can do a lot with less-than-perfect tools, it's not an experience you actively seek out.
The iPad Pro screen does offer a huge helping hand to all of these third-party styluses. I noticed precision improvements across the board, though none got a big enough boost to make the stylus a truly great pen experience. But if you're not interested in waiting and spending $100 on an Apple Pencil, these $12-$75 options are great alternatives.
But you should be interested in spending $100. In fact, if you have an iPad Pro and have ever wanted to write or draw on a digital surface in your life, you owe it to yourself to go hunt one down right this second.
OMG PENCIL OMG (or why the Pencil is the best stylus I've ever used)
When I was 12, I belonged to one of the earliest of early attempts at a Web social media game. I was introduced to the kid-friendly site (ah, the pre-COPPA days!) by a couple of Caltech alums. There, you could create a digital avatar of yourself and decorate it with items designed by other players. Those avatars would chat and hang out in digitally-drawn "playgrounds" where anything potentially risqué was censored, complaining about homework and solving some of the site's science and math puzzles. (Does it surprise anyone I was a nerdy kid growing up?)
Once I found out you could earn "clams" to buy more for your avatar if you drew smart and funny things, however, I tried to learn everything there was to know about digital drawing. I convinced my parents to buy me an early-era Wacom tablet, but not after thousands of hours trying to draw on the trackpad of our Wall Street PowerBook.
At one point, thinking myself brilliant, I took a Newton stylus and tried to use it on the trackpad, tracing over something I'd drawn on paper. Needless to say, I was very put out when it didn't work.
This memory has stuck in my head for years. It's where my interest in drawing and sketching blossomed, even if I was initially wildly unsuccessful. And ever since, I've longed for a device that could truly let me draw digitally the way I tried to on paper.
TL;DR: I have been waiting for the Apple Pencil for 16 years.
It's not perfect. It still feels like plastic on glass, and until Apple figures out some Taptic Engine magic to convince our senses otherwise, it's going to remain that way.
But it does something heretofore unexpected: It beats Wacom at its own game. The Pencil is just as good a sketching tool as any Wacom pen. I don't care that we don't know its official pressure rating. It's right. Apple got it right. The pressure, the accuracy, the lag, the palm rejection. My brain is fully and thoroughly tricked into believing it's drawing on paper, and even the pen on glass sensation can't convince me otherwise.
When you draw digitally, there's always some amount of learning curve. "Okay, I can't draw circles that way," "I have to remember to balance my hand off the screen," "I just flat out can't write fast." This doesn't exist with the Pencil.
It is remarkably precise. I have written in what would amount to 4-point font in the Notes app, without zooming, and been able to perfectly trace over those letters. I can draw free-form without worrying about wavering lines. I'm not scared of touching the screen with my palm—a habit five years in the making. And the pressure sensitivity is just so good.
It says something that Apple doesn't ship the Pencil with a "settings" app. Wacom does. So does Microsoft. Even some third-party styluses have preferences for adjusting your pressure choices.
Normally I would be annoyed by this. Everyone draws differently, and everyone's used to pressing against the screen in a different way.
But you know what? I agree with the company here. Apple is essentially saying: This is a tool, just like your HB pencil. You can't tell your HB pencil you want it to make lighter strokes. You have to learn how to use it. You have to trust it.
I trust the Pencil. Its pressure mechanics make sense the way a physical tool makes sense. It doesn't have any weird software glitches; it doesn't accidentally think you've made a hard line and dark black comes out of nowhere. I've been drawing digitally for sixteen years. I've never had a pen with pressure accuracy like this.
I've made people who have never before in their lives attempted to work digitally pick up the Pencil and start writing and drawing. My boyfriend, who has little to no interest in physical drawing let alone digital tools, was captivated for 20 minutes drawing a little monster. I let my massage therapist write with it and five minutes later she was texting her mother with a Christmas wish list.
For artists, the Pencil isn't perfect, but it's one of the best pens that's come along in fifteen years—and it's new. It's not trying to replicate Wacom's aging technology. It's going a new direction, and can only get better from here. Every artist I've talked to is thrilled.
I chatted with Rich Stevens, author of our Pixel Project comic on iMore and creator of Diesel Sweeties. He said:
His last comment is the one that sticks with me: The Pencil makes the Pro a true sketchbook. I'd rather carry around the Pencil and Pro than fill up paper Moleskine after Moleskine and lose those drawings to storage boxes and moves. And it's inciting me to draw, write, and sketch more often.
The finger, the pen, the keyboard
I find it interesting that Apple has shipped two accessories with the Pro designed to augment touch interaction: a keyboard, and pen. Funny, really, considering the keyboard replaced the pencil in most of our day-to-day lives. And ever since, we've been looking for bigger and better keyboards. We have epic debates about key size and travel and words per minute. It's what's provoked the debate about the Apple Smart Keyboard's usefulness.
The Apple Smart Keyboard isn't bad. But it's like those third-party styluses—it's trying to haphazardly recreate the desktop experience while compromising on function. The perfect all-digital keyboard is still a long way away.
The Pencil, too, is trying to recreate a tool we use on our desks. But artists aside, it's a tool many of us tossed away for a keyboard as soon as we finished grade school. How many people write longform anymore? How many can still write a full handwritten cursive alphabet?
And I wonder. For those who long-ago gave up doodling in the margins or block lettering, can a presumed-outdated tool actually pull them back in? I see smiles and grins after using a Pencil that I've never seen with even the best hardware keyboard. I can't predict the future. But I can easily believe that Apple is going to sell a metric ton of Pencils. It's going to move iPad Pros—and with luck, new-generation Pencil-supported iPads—off the shelves.
Because it's not just about re-learning to sketch. Says Stevens, "I really like being able to switch between fingers and a pen even when I'm not drawing. [It] keeps my brain limber!" It adds an extra level of interaction to our daily computing lives, and gives us another potential tool in our toolbox.
I hate outlining stories with a keyboard. I love sketching out lists. The Pencil now gives me a way to build out stories and plans in a more creative way than a keyboard and notes app ever could.
I have so much more to say about the Pencil—day five is all about how it compares to a Cintiq and Surface Book, and I put it through some heavy art and writing trials—but I'm going to close with this: It's early days yet. This enthusiasm could wane; I could find the Pencil lost in my bag three months from now.
But this is the kind of enthusiasm I had about my iPhone, and the kind I wanted to—but ultimately failed—to have about the first iPad. This is a tool that's going to help the iPad go places.
And it's going to produce an unholy amount of fantastic art.
Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
Looks like my days of writing and sketching and collecting dozens and dozens of sketchbooks, notepads and miscellaneous bits of torn paper may finally be over.
Too bad it took all this time for a worthy enough stylus. This should have come out with the iPad 2 or 3, not iPad 7.
And what are you basing that statement on?
It's a valid complaint. People have been waiting since day one for a good stylus. The fact that dozens of companies started making styluses for iPads on day one is a good indicator of their popularity. A pencil or stylus is the oldest interface device (besides the finger) that exists, and has been in continuous use since the dawn of (so-called) civilisation.
It isn't just about making another stylus. It's about making the right stylus that closely mimics the experience of pencil in conjunction with having the appropriate screen technology that can interact with the screen. Maybe the technology wasn't ready for the type of experience Apple was aiming for. A lot of the reviews I've seen of the Pencil say it's a game changer.
It's always been third parties that bothered with styluses. Steve Jobs LOATHED the idea of using styluses and wanted to push only UI that would be using fingers. He never thought of the artist community, just general population and future interfacing on Apple devices. He was a genius, but his scope was so broad that he never stopped to think maybe the tools he thought were "Beneath" his ideals were possibly necessary for certain groups. Like working on nuclear reactor schematics with finger paints. This makes no sense. Maybe in 100 years? Currently, hell no.
He didn't believe a stylus was a good primary input method. He really didn't live long enough to give us a true indication that he would have been for or against a stylus as an art utility. I'm willing to bet that changes the whole idea of the stylus even to him. Look at how styluses were used in 2007 when he made the statement and contrast that from how the Apple Pencil is being used. And to the original comment...don't you think if the technology was there to allow this kind of experience Apple would have done it sooner? It's easy to say it should be one way when you aren't aware of the technology that goes into it.
Comment of the day... Well said.
Yes, and the Mac Classic should have had a Retina display... Boy, your glass is half empty.
Exactly! This person clearly doesn't understand that tech evolves and isn't available when you think it should be available.
If they had done it with the iPad 2, it was likely to be an inferior product. I am more than happy for Apple to take its time, but do it *right* the first time, not the Microsoft approach of being incapable of not failing before the third try, if not fourth of later.
I'm happy, that your happy, Serenity!
Awww...And I'm happy that you're happy that Serinity is happy... /s
Nice job. I am of limited art ability but I love my pencil already and I do think it's a game changing instrument.
You have a typo in the second line of the And I wonder... Paragraph.
I too am happy the pencil works for you Your artistic talent comes through. Would love to see what Rene does with the pencil. I occasionally work with Maya but theres no way the ipad pro will ever be able to run that!
So I have mixed feelings about the pencil. In some regards its awesome. The notes app has great support. Pencil by 53 - maybe its something wrong with my iPad but there is definite lag. As a long time wacom user its not anything bad, one of those you get used to it type things but disappointing none the less. Its kind of how if you are working on a tiny one layer file on PhotoShop and its great and smooth, and then you open up a 30 layer 300 dpi file and see lag. I have a feeling the pencil will be the same. Incredibly smooth in notes, or simple drawing apps that only render or let you create art at screen resolutions - but lag and be similar to a wacom when doing any heavy lifting. If I'm delivering in print I'm not working on a screen size file - you need much more resolution for print fidelity. So I'm torn. I've actually bought an iPad pro and a surface pro 4 (gasp!) and am deciding which to use for my mobile illustration and design solution - and its not a clear choice. The iPad is more fun - but how the heck do I get files off of this thing if I don't have a really fast internet connection for cloud stuff. And the surface pen - while not quite as good, is pretty darn good and having real programs (adobe stuff basically works the same as mac - they've never conformed to "mac" stuff) is nice - but using windows is rough. Help!
You're severely dissing the thing and all aspects of the pencil/iPad combination, but yet you basically let us know that you don't have any actual experience with either. It seems like a waste of time at best or kind of biased really. Why not actually use the thing, or at least talk to someone who has before you go shitting all over it? People have to remember that this is basically a 1.0 technology demo of a product that didn't exist a few weeks ago. Next year hopefully the pencil will work on all the new iPads, the kinks will be worked out, and the apps will be there to utilise it. The very fact that Paper 53, (probably the leading drawing app on iOS), doesn't support the Apple Pencil yet tells you exactly how "early days" this is.
I don't think I'm "sh*tting" all over it, and I've owned and used it for over a week so I dont understand what you are talking about. For people that like to casually sketch and take notes I think its awesome. Don't drink the cool aid. I'm just pointing out for people like me who use these tools to make a living its not the second coming of the stylus. Pen support / lag is dependent on the program you are using and how big the files are (just like with a wacom intrude tablet, or a cintique monitor or an n-trig device) People who make a living illustrating and designing don't deliver files to print houses or clients in relatively low resolution JPG. Maybe I posted this because although I have used iPads since they have come out - I've never considered them a work device and maybe someone here would have some workflow suggestions. Here's a big one - I want to work on a PSD (native PhotoShop) that I receive in an email. I then want to save and email that back to a colleague still as a layered psi file. This is something I do on a daily basis. I haven't found a good solution for this simple task - giving other people access to my whole creative cloud account is not an option. So I'm pointing out that for people that really use these things to do real work the software and workflow is not there. And maybe never will be while the app store is dominated by 99 cent apps and adobe has made it clear they see iPad as an accessory to a real computer and not something that they will support with real applications in the future. And paper is featured on the website, proclaims they are one of the first apps to fully support the pencil, directly worked with apple etc, but right now the implementation is not good. That's fact. I still have a week with both devices and who knows, maybe they will both go back and I will keep lugging around my MacBook pro, charger, intous 4 and mouse around because its what real professionals need to work. I was looking forward to having something more mobile than that and maybe in a few years the iPad situation has changed. I doubt it though, as recent apple has completely turned their back on people that use their hardware and software for professional creative work (see Aperture, Final Cut X iMovie fun for you mom edition, and the Mac Pro. )
Have you tried Procreate? exports to PSD (layers, everything), has a 64MP output (admittedly with limited layers) and is the most responsive painting I've used on any platform. The brushes are superior to Photoshop's imo too. I still personally need PS for many things but I know a lot of people who rely less on masking and compositing are increasingly using it as a pro tool now that the Pro / Pencil combo is out. Paper is great for developing ideas, but not really intended as more than a sketchbook I think.
'most responsive painting app' that should read :-)
You realize that screen resolution for the iPad Pro is 264DPI, right? This isn't a Cintiq with a 1024x768 display on it.
Resolution is a software thing, so you'll have to see what software comes out. Lag: yes but surely it's better than anything else out there, so what to whinge about? Getting files off: I don't understand, iTunes allows you to directly move files on and off. Maybe not ideal, but hardly impossible.
So, how are you finding the 53 Pencil on the iPad Pro compared to other iPads? For me, the 53 Pencil doesn't work as well, seems to stutter more - I'm having a harder time getting a consistant line. The other styluses I have (Wacom Creative, Wacom Fineline, and Adobe) do not work on the iPad Pro. The most unfortunite thing is that the other fine tip styluses don't work on the iPad Pro - it would have made the wait for Pencil (still don't have it) somewhat more tolerable.
I suspected this 'one week experiment' was going to be difficult, but then I heard you were able to get an Apple Pencil and I knew things would be all better...
Need Audio Hijack for iOS.
This single-stream audio shortcoming has been mentioned by many podcasters and I'm sure a fix is in the works.
It's still early for people trying to do a lot of 'real work' on an iPad. This 'Pro' has now doubled-down on that. I expect considerable progress soon.
Google "son of frankenskype" for a high-quality all iOS audio solution for that...its. It's not
Nearly as elegant as allowing this to be done in one device, but the quality sacrifice goes away, at least.
Hopefully you recommend your favorite apps for use with the pencil now that you have it.
109 euro for the pencil. that is just taking the piss.
Are you new to Apple products? ;¬)
Does the pencil work with earlier iPads in any way?
No, for a few hardware related reasons. The refresh rate on a normal iPad is 60Hz, the iPad Pro, when using the Pencil, dynamically can bump up from 60Hz to 240Hz to smooth out the drawing experience and has a special magnetic lining in the screen that works with the Pencil magnetic tip. Basically, the hardware isn't there to work with older iPads. I'm HOPING thats why they didn't release an iPad Air 3 this year.. They deiced to hold off, release the iPad Pro, then next year we'll see an iPad Air 3 with same capabilities. Maybe even with the iPhone 7 Plus? Who knows.. I have a bad feeling the 3D Touch might be a screen technology that could interfere with pencils 'Sketching' technology.. Only time will tell I guess if it's a and / or situation.
Nice to see you using Google Hangouts on your iPad. How else has your life "changed" since you discovered a pencil?
The cap is interesting. I guess Apple decided it was OK since charging will be a fairly infrequent activity. Too bad the didn't come up with an easy way to charge both the iPad Pro and the Pencil simultaneously.
The cap is awful. Really for that price I’d have expected them to come up with a light pressue spring loaded collar that is pushed down by the action of inserting it into a lightning port. Therefore when not being charged it is flush with the top of the port.
Still waiting for a native app to allow me to ‘carry my Mac Pro’ around the house.
After waiting years for a stylus like the Apple Pencil, I can honestly say I'm in love with it for drawing. The precise line, intuitive shading, and almost-perfect palm rejection of the Pencil make my iPad drawing time blissful. And handwriting is fun again! For coloring, though, I find myself reaching for my plain old Bamboo stylus. I prefer the soft, sliding motion of the thick, cloth-wrapped tip. I use the 53 Pencil for coloring, too, but it's a bit grabby on the screen. For me, the Apple Pencil is worth every penny. It won't be my only stylus, but I won't leave home without it.
Nice that it works for you. I’m a little more old school.
When I was actually at school, my favourite lesson was Technical Drawing, (I don’t know what they call it these days), and they now of course have an electronic modern equivalent.
I’ve used todays programs but I never get anywhere near the same level of satisfaction I do from spreading a sheet of A3 or A2 on a drawing board with parallel motion and breaking out the compass and selection of pencils. I loved Tangency especially.
Granted I’d probably be more productive electronically but enjoying what you do turns a job you have to do more into a job you might actually want to do.
We’re all different I suppose. I’m the same with computers, Apple products are ones I like to use, nowadays with the lockdowns, increase in issues/prices the gap to competitors is closing. For me.
Presuming it wouldn't take excessive time, it would be very cool for iMore to use some iPad Pro sketches and drawings as graphics for stories. :)
Please tell us about the experiences with different apps. Does the Pencil work as good as in Apple Notes with other iPad Pro supporting apps like Evernote or Paper?
Wow, thank you, this is a great, great write up! You've answered a lot of questions and really got me thinking. I've been totally obsessed with drawing directly on the iPad for years now. I own so many styluses I'm almost ashamed :) Check some of my work on behance.net/Metaphormidable if you want. Here's my biggest question/quibble: why the heck (well actually I think I know why, so this is a rhetorical question) but why is Apple only releasing the Pencil to be compatible with iPad Pro?!? This makes me want to bang my head on the wall. I will probably eventually relent and shovel out the money for a Pro- but it's not always practical to haul something so big around. I do a lot of my drawing/sketching spur of the moment/on the move, and no way am I pulling this massive thing out to sketch! Arrrrrgh!!!!!!! But thanks again for the fantastic article.
As others have mentioned, Pencil *requires* the new hardware in the iPad Pro. Not a limitation of the Pencil so much as a limitation of the earlier iPads. On this week’s episode of John Gruber’s podcast (with guest Jason Snell), John talks about how it seems that the new technology in the iPad Pro scree