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Pencil'ers rejoice: Apple restoring gesture navigation

The ability to use an Apple Pencil to gesture-navigate the iPad Pro is a feature that existed at launch but went missing in the first few iOS 9.3 betas. That led to disappointment from people who were used to and came to depend on the feature. Well, good news: An Apple spokesperson has told iMore the feature is coming back!

Apple Pencil has been a huge hit with iPad Pro users, who love it for drawing, annotating and taking notes," an Apple spokesperson told iMore. "We believe a finger will always be the primary way users navigate on an iPad, but we understand that some customers like to use Apple Pencil for this as well and we've been working on ways to better implement this while maintaining compatibility during this latest beta cycle. We will add this functionality back in the next beta of iOS 9.3."

Apple Pencil doesn't rely on the same implementation of multitouch that finger gestures do. So, Apple Pencil can be used separately and distinctly from fingers. When iPad Pro was first released, Apple chose to map Apple Pencil gestures to finger gestures because it was believed that would match customer expectations — people would assume it would work that way so why not make it work that way? In part, that was because of how previous multitouch-based stylus pens worked.

There's another point of view, however, that believes since the two are separate and distinct they should be allowed to remain that way. Not just because it might better match how a pencil works in the real world, but because it might allow for different interactions — fingers doing one thing, the Pencil doing another. (You can see a hint of this in how the ruler works in the Notes app.)

Betas — where software is available to developers and a portion of the public interested in testing upcoming versions of the operating system— can be something used to experiment with different features and modalities. Four-finger gesture navigation on the iPad, which began the same way — is an example. Some people loved it immediately, others wondered why they were suddenly Fruit Ninja-ing into Mail. Eventually, Apple settled on an option in Settings.

Likewise, while some have expressed dislike for Apple removing gesture-navigation from the Pencil, others have preferred it that way. The problem here, though, is that taking away a feature people have come to expect hurts the experience and perception of the product and process. Optional settings — even if the default is switched — allows for experimentation with an escape hatch for frustration.

Either way, it's great to see Apple communicating and listening to feedback. That's the whole point of a public beta, and the whole point of constructive feedback from passionate customers, in and out of the media.

The update restoring Pencil navigation is expected to come in a future version of the iOS 9.3 beta. iOS 9.3, if Apple sticks to previous patterns, could come as soon as mid-March.

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.

21 Comments
  • Except there are still lots of folks that like it better the other way. And there is no way iMore would do any articles about that, right? It's enough that we whined about it and got our way. Here's hoping it's an optional setting. Just as I hoped it would be for those that wanted this.
  • Sigh Sent from the iMore App
  • Then just use your finger - it works fine. I was doing this on mine today without issue. There are times I find using the pencil more efficient, but the ability to use my finger is always there.
  • Wait, what's the complaint?? If you don't use a pencil then just use your finger. Is an option even necessary even if one may not even use a pencil to begin with??
  • Lol yeah that was a dumb comment from OP Sent from the iMore App
  • Well done iMore.
  • Yes I certainly agree - WELL DONE IMORE!!! My main use (90%) of the pencil is for navigation. If Apple took this functionality away, the pencil would have been next to useless for me. Thanks again iMore for taking the lead in this.
  • Why on Earth would anybody prefer it the other way? At least give those people a toggle in Settings? I figure it's a matter of time before the Pencil has its own page in Settings anyway. Especially now that they're trying out different methods in beta.
  • It's not the matter who what prefers, but Apples vision how the device should be used, it's classic Apple making some controversial decisions in terms of functionality based on their feeling of what best experience should be. Apple Pencil is not a stylus, so it shouldn't be used that way, the best tool for iOS navigation is finger, I totally get Apple point here. Secondary tons of articles that appeared after the keynote, calling Apple Pencil an abomination because Jobs hated styluses and how the whole situation makes him literally turning in his grave didn't help either. I gues Apple wanted make very strong point here, Apple Pencil is not a stylus, don't call it that way, don't confuse the customers, it's not what this tool is for.
  • And if it hadn't been set up to work that way at at launch, the discussion would be moot. The problem was that they gave us functionality and then TOOK IT AWAY, and that's pretty much always a bad thing. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Apple deciding how customers are supposed to use a product usually doesn't go well. Remember "you're holding it wrong?" You may feel the Pencil isn't a stylus, but a large percentage of users disagree. Apple shouldn't create such a cool device and then restrict it to only artists. Oh and apparently you're wrong anyway, since Apple is restoring stylus functionality in the next beta and in 9.3 final.
  • This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. Apple could up its communication skills and improve customer satisfaction (and bring an end to such controversies.) Would it really be that difficult for Apple to indicate such things in the beta release notes? "This release temporarily removed X functionality, for improvement, and will be restored in a forthcoming update in the near future." Were I Tim, I would task my team to look at how customer and market facing communication processes could be improved to prevent such such needless controversies.
  • Except they didn't intend it to be temporary. They intended it to be permanent, but are backing off because of the outcry of feedback. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Perhaps. Can you provide a citation to back up your assertion? (It makes no sense that a product would be launched with such a feature to then delete it so soon after launch. Companies have technology and feature roadmaps which govern product offerings. Competitor benchmarks may determine that a feature introduction be accelerated to counter a competitor, but it would be asinine to introduce a feature to then strip it out - car companies do this with running vehicles to save money on hardware content, but here we talk about software. There is no savings to delete already developed software features.)
  • Hope Apple also realizes that although they believe 'a finger will always be the primary way users navigate', some of us purchased the iPad Pro and Pencil because we don't use fingers, don't have fingers or don't have fully functional fingers, and expect to use the device as it was originally sold to us - a device that opened up accessibility that the iPad hadn't had before.
  • My only argument with this is you don't need an Apple Pencil for that. I bought a cheap $10 stylus when I got my iPad in 2010. It worked fine for navigational purposes.
  • So basically you're suggesting that those of us who already have a Pencil, ALSO buy a separate stylus? Talk about awkward user experience! A Pencil is not (just) a stylus, but it's also capable of being used as one for those of us who prefer it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • now just enable the pencil on the air 3!
  • What a joke people getting paranoid about Apples pencil and it's not April fools yet
  • From Australia. Don't know what all the fun was about. My pencil works ok and I use it all the time to navigate. Saves a lot of cleaning up.
    Love it and the iPad Pro.
  • Here's a thought? Let people who don't like it turn it off in settings, but leave it enabled by default (or let users choose upon first use or pairing) for the rest of us. Posted via the iMore App for Android