Apple Pencil 3: Everything you need to know (plus the latest USB-C option...)

Apple Pencil 3
(Image credit: Future)

How do you improve upon perfection? A pencil, after all, is for drawing. Everything else is just an addition. However, the Apple Pencil 3 seems set to come with some very nifty features that could actually make upgrading worthwhile. Now we're just waiting on that official release date. 

When the Apple Pencil 2 received a somewhat downgraded yet affordable USB-C refresh, fans were clamoring for something more adventurous — something that their standard Apple Pencil 2 couldn't do. Luckily, with rumors of interchangeable tips, Find My improvements, and so much more, we are expecting Apple's next stylus peripheral to be fantastic. 

Though we have received many Apple Pencil alternatives, we haven't seen a proper new Apple Pencil in some time and, as the best iPad lineup is set to get bigger, so too is the total amount of Apple Pencils on the market. 

Here's everything we know about the Apple Pencil 3 right now, from when we expect it to release, to all those rumored features. 

Apple Pencil 3: Design and rumored features

Apple Pencil laying beside wooden pencils.

(Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Apple Pencil 3: what to expect

Any signs of Apple Pencil 3 leaks have been fairly few and far between. It's unlikely we'll see many hints from Apple about the potential device either, even though we're near-certain it's currently in development.

One reassuring sign is that Apple regularly files patent applications so it can protect its new inventions and plans from imitators and infringement. These are made public after a time and while they may not be a guarantee of what you'll see in final consumer products, they often give a good indication of what Apple is thinking of releasing. 

For the Apple Pencil, this is great news as Apple has filed a ton of patents to do with it. We took a look at the pick of the bunch, and you can soon see how an Apple Pencil 3 is forming from these. Compared to some more puzzling patent applications, the following examples offer up some genuinely useful benefits.

Find My functionality
Ever lost your Apple Pencil down the back of the sofa? A newly uncovered Apple Pencil patent points to the third-generation Apple Pencil model having built-in Find My functionality — the tracking service Apple uses to help its customers locate missing devices like AirPods.

Instead of using the ultra-wide band capabilities of the U1 chip that you see in devices like the AirPods however, the patent suggests that the Apple Pencil could use acoustic resonators to make the device more easily found. It could emit a noise that would be heard by your iPhone or iPad, allowing you to help track it down more easily. 

There's a downside, of course. You still need the Apple Pencil to be close to your other devices so it can be heard. Any far away pencil is going to be lost forever or found the traditional way of poking around a lot. For those moments where you can't remember what bag or drawer you left the pencil in, the patent paints a bright future for Apple Pencil 3's more absent-minded owners.

Vibrating feedback
In June of 2022, Patently Apple highlighted two new patents Apple had been awarded, both relating to a stylus device. The first of these was entitled ‘Touch-based input device with haptic feedback’. It described what sounded like an Apple Pencil that could provide haptic feedback based on what the user was doing with it. One example suggested when a user selected a different brush in an app, the Pencil could buzz or vibrate.

Apple Pencil patent showing touch controls.

(Image credit: Apple)

AirPod style buttons
The same patent also demonstrated a 'user grip region of the housing [as] deformable'. That means it's squeezy. The idea is that it could act as a button to change functions. If you've used the AirPods Pro 2, you'll know what we mean. The earbuds' stem can be squeezed to activate noise-cancelling features. 

Such a section could also be touch-sensitive so, for instance, one could drag their finger up the Pencil's edge to change brush size or adjust zoom levels.

The Pantone Color guide

(Image credit: Pantone)

Color and texture sampling
A different patent described a potential feature that would be very useful to artists keen to be more creative. The patent describes a light sensor and light emitter (not dissimilar to a camera and accompanying processing unit) that could be built into an Apple Pencil 3. It would allow the user to sample colors and textures from surfaces around them to gain inspiration from their surroundings. Spot a wood grain nearby that you want to copy, and you could do so by placing the Pencil near it to copy the pattern and tone. It's a feature that would mirror similar functionality to that which we've seen through dedicated devices like the Nix Mini 3 Color Sensor.

Rotating ‘Digital Crown’ cap control
Yes, it's another rumored feature that's seemingly been cherry picked from another Apple device. Yet another patent suggests that Apple could plan on integrating a rotating controller, not unlike the Apple Watch Digital Crown. Through it, users could cycle through menus, allowing for a quick change of brush type or color. You can see what that might look like in the render video above by artist Sarang Sheth.

Apple Pencil replacement tips

(Image credit: Apple)

Interchangeable nibs with different properties
Regular users of Apple Pencils will know that the nibs of the stylus wear down and need replacing after a time. A patent published back in 2017 suggests that Apple might be looking to offer interchangeable nibs that suit different purposes and needs. It could mean nibs that offer a different shape or thickness, as well as the ability to mirror different hardness values of traditional pencils. Of course, it would be a key opportunity for Apple to sell accessories for accessories.

This is a rumor that's had weight thrown behind it by Apple leaker Majin Bu too, citing sources claiming that different nibs would allow artists to swap between drawing, technical drawing, and painting tips. These would have different sizes, weights and feels, to more closely replicate their real-world counterparts.

A patent for an Apple stylus showing potential motion sensing.

(Image credit: Apple)

VR controller
We know the Apple Vision Pro is set to revolutionize VR and AR technology. Another patent suggests that the Apple Pencil could be involved.

It suggests that Apple is considering using any eventual Apple Pencil 3 as a VR controller. Sensors in both the Pencil and VR headset could work together to track the stylus in 3D space. From there, it would convert its movements into input in a virtual reality environment. With VR art growing in popularity, Apple would be creating an accurate control method for related applications this way.

However, one video on Twitter has already demonstrated that may not necessarily be as vital as one would think, with users' hands working very well to sketch out designs. 

A patent for an Apple stylus showing potential 3D depth sensing.

(Image credit: Apple)

Despite that, the rumors persist. A preview build of the visionOS 2 operating system update is reportedly in testing, and with it comes options that will allow users to interact with its AR programs via the Apple Pencil.

3D object creation
Many 3D artists are already using the Apple Pencil so this patent could be particularly interesting for them. A 2020 patent spotted by Apple World Today describes how future Apple Pencils could understand depth in 3D space, leading to devising co-ordinates for real-world objects, before recreating them as three-dimensional models in applications. The positioning data could be calculated using acceleration and contact. It could work well alongside the sensors that work for color and texture sampling, as we've seen above, or in a VR context too.

iPhone support and USB-C charging
Code appearing in iOS 17.1 makes some interesting references to the Apple Pencil, despite Apple Pencil not currently being compatible with iPhones. Could this suggest Apple Pencil 3 will expand compatibility to include Apple's phones, too? In addition, the same code change references USB-C charging, suggesting that power delivery to the device will now be carried out over that now-standard charging connection. It makes sense, with iPhones, the last piece in the USB-C puzzle, now transitioned to that connection too.

'Squeeze' gesture
Code in the iPadOS 17.5 beta hints at a new 'squeeze' function, where users can squeeze the pencil to produce different effects like cycling between brushes. With double tap, this gives artists even more ways to swap between tools without having to physically touch the iPad screen. 

Elsewhere in the code was the suggestion that this squeeze gesture could be combined with long-duration squeezes and 'double squeezes' — just like you can do with an AirPods Pro 2 stem — allowing for multiple actions and commands to be assigned to the squeeze functionality.

Apple Pencil 3: Release date expectations

The most recent information we have suggests Apple is planning to unveil its new Apple Pencil 3 alongside new Magic Keyboards, an OLED iPad Pro, iPad Air 6, and a new iPad mini 7 in May 2024. That would suggest availability very shortly afterward, too.

Originally, these were expected to launch in March but were held back as the tablets started to enter mass production. In April, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reported that the slew of iPad upgrades, including Apple Pencil 3, would drop the week of May 6. 

Apple Pencil 1 and 2 side by side on top of a red background.

(Image credit: iMore)

Apple Pencil 3 pricing — what to expect

While the Apple Pencil 3 may not have been released yet, we can get a rough ballpark price range for it based on previous generations.

The first generation Apple Pencil costs $99, while the second generation Apple Pencil 2 is $129. Neither has seen an official price drop since launch, with even the first generation remaining the same price and available to assist 10-inch iPad 2022 owners. 

That means we'd expect to see $129 be the lowest price for the Apple Pencil 3, however with potential extra complexity for the device and a few years of inflation to factor in, it could cost more. We'd be ready to anticipate it hitting $150 for pro-level users if some of the rumors of functionality are true. That would leave the second generation pen available as a 'cheaper' alternative.

New! Apple Pencil with USB-C

While it's not the Apple Pencil 3 we're still holding out hope for, in October 2023 Apple did announce an all-new Apple Pencil with USB-C. Think of it as a step-up from the first-generation Pencil, but not quite as feature-rich as the Apple Pencil 2nd generation.

Apple Pencil

(Image credit: Apple)

Designed with affordability in mind (it costs just $79), Apple Pencil with USB-C looks lots like the 2nd-gen Pencil, but with some key changes and omissions. First of all, it now sports a USB-C charging port in its rear end, hidden by a slide-off cap. And while it should feel as nice to sketch and write with as the Apple Pencil 2, it's lacking the pressure sensitivity that both the 2nd and 1st generation Apple Pencils include. As well as that, though it attaches magnetically to the side of an iPad, it can't charge or pair this way — you'll need a USB-C cable for that. It will include support for Apple Pencil's Hover functionality though.

Here's a look at how it stacks up against the other generations of Pencil.

A spec sheet for the Apple Pencil with USB-C

(Image credit: Apple)

With the Apple Pencil only working with specific iPads, predictably there have previously been rumors about the chance of an Apple Pencil designed specifically for iPhone, at a cheaper price point. While this model is indeed cheaper, it's not quite that rumor made true — there's still no iPhone support here.

So, as you can see, it's far from the 'next-generation' Pencil we've been longing for. Read on for why we're still hoping to see a true Apple Pencil 3 sequel.

Why the Apple Pencil 3 has to happen

The Apple Pencil 2 is a great stylus with no third-party alternative able to beat it just yet. Outside of sitting at a dedicated graphics tablet at your desk, it's about as good a digital writing or sketching experience you can get. Add on one of the note-taking apps for iPad and Apple Pencil or one of the best drawing apps for iPad and you can't go wrong.

iPadOS in close up to show the Apple Pencil charging prompt.

(Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

In many ways, it's not so much that the Apple Pencil needs to evolve, but that people need a reason to buy a new iPad. The latest iPads are overpowered compared to the needs of many thanks to running the same chipsets as entry-level Macs, all while using an operating system and app library that's much less demanding.

However, an Apple Pencil 3 could theoretically ship alongside the OLED iPad Pro with the pencil able to take advantage of extra M3 chip horsepower. It would be a tempting upgrade for many, even those less artistically inclined. Don’t be surprised if the next truly exciting iPad update is an Apple Pencil 3 feature instead.

Gerald Lynch
Editor in Chief

Gerald Lynch is the Editor-in-Chief of iMore, keeping careful watch over the site's editorial output and commercial campaigns, ensuring iMore delivers the in-depth, accurate and timely Apple content its readership deservedly expects. You'll never see him without his iPad Pro, and he loves gaming sessions with his buddies via Apple Arcade on his iPhone 15 Pro, but don't expect him to play with you at home unless your Apple TV is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. 


Living in London in the UK, Gerald was previously Editor of Gizmodo UK, and Executive Editor of TechRadar, and has covered international trade shows including Apple's WWDC, MWC, CES and IFA. If it has an acronym and an app, he's probably been there, on the front lines reporting on the latest tech innovations. Gerald is also a contributing tech pundit for BBC Radio and has written for various other publications, including T3 magazine, GamesRadar, Space.com, Real Homes, MacFormat, music bible DIY, Tech Digest, TopTenReviews, Mirror.co.uk, Brandish, Kotaku, Shiny Shiny and Lifehacker. Gerald is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press, and also holds a Guinness world record on Tetris. For real.

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