Why I'm excited--and a little nervous--for the Apple Pencil stylus

Yes, it's true: Apple announced a stylus for the iPad. Ahem, excuse me: A Pencil. At no point during Wednesday's announcement did the company use the dreaded S-word, preferring "pencil," "device," and a few other monikers. But a stylus the Pencil is, and an exciting one at that.

I've been writing for almost five years now about why Apple should make a pressure-sensitive stylus for the iPad, and now that it's come, I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Questions and curiosities

Rene's in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium trying out the Apple Pencil as I type this; I likely won't be able to take a spin with the Pencil until later this year when it's released. But before Rene disappeared into the hands on area I texted him an obscenely long list of curiosities about Apple's new pen:

  • Will it incorporate palm rejection, so you can rest your hand on the screen while drawing?
  • Will you be able to tap and draw at the same time?
  • How bad is the latency between drawing lines and having them appear?
  • Can you write quickly without crazy tapping noises driving you insane or slanting your writing?
  • How good is the pressure sensitivity?
  • Will it work with older iPads? (I'm guessing no.)

There's also the question of whether we'll even get hands-on time with the Pencil yet. The stylus still has two months until it ships, and it's a bit telling to me that we didn't see an illustration demo on-stage—or really any firm examples, outside of product video, of the device's pressure sensitivity features.

We'll know all these things soon, and they're the important questions to ask: There are many styluses out in the world for the iPad right now, and all get at least some aspects of that list correctly, failing horribly in others. If Apple truly has managed to put together a pen that has great pressure, low latency, and comfortable writing, the company could change artists's digital workspaces for the better.

The benefits of an Apple-made stylus

Until now, artists and photographers who truly wanted pro-caliber drawing were confined to tablets like the Wacom Cintiq—which hooks directly into a computer, or its Android version, the Cintiq Companion—or the Microsoft Surface. (Or even Frankenstein creations like the ModBook.)

These aren't bad options for pro artists at all—but if they have Apple products elsewhere in their ecosystem, it makes it more difficult to switch back and forth from laptop to desktop to artist's tablet and back. It also reduces the need for an iPad in the ecosystem at all—if you already own a Surface for drawing, you might as well lug around the Surface for your other tablet works.

The iPad Pro potentially changes all of that. I don't think it's going to spur legions of Surface and Cintiq-users to dump their current solution right away. But if the iPad Pro and the Pencil can offer an even closely-comparable experience to that of working on a Cintiq, it opens up a new option when upgrading, and a very attractive one at that.

Combine the iPad's third-party app ecosystem with the power of pressure-sensitivity, and artists can easily draw and work on images in their favorite programs without worrying if that program has specific SDK support (as is the issue with many styluses today) or terrible latency. They can work in their favorite programs and use Handoff to send their work to the Mac, wirelessly.

Heck, they may even be able to directly integrate it back to their Mac. Apps like Astropad let users turn their iPad into a Cintiq-like interface for OS X; combine that with a pressure-sensitive Apple stylus, and you have incredible control over any piece of digital artwork combined with the rendering power of your Mac.

There are plenty of other potential uses for an excellent Apple Pencil outside of the artist ecosystem: film editing, enterprise productivity, single-purpose site-specific apps—the possibilities are endless.

But the stylus has to be good. Not just good—exceptionally good.

What about third-party styluses?

Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the Pencil will kill the third-party stylus. It's for the Pro only, and plenty of people with limited budgets and desire for smaller iPads may still want styluses for simple writing or sketching tasks. But depending on what we find out about the Pencil's tech—and how it interacts with that new iPad Pro screen—it may open up some interesting competitive angles. If Apple decides to offer APIs for any of its advances in screen mapping, for instance, that could be a huge boon for stylus-makers.

Either way, I don't expect to see the third-party stylus die anytime soon—though it may evolve.

Will it sketch?

As soon as I get my hands on a Pencil, I'll write about all this and more. Until then, I'm going to hope, wait, and continue to be excited that Apple's taken a firm step in this direction.

Serenity Caldwell

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.

  • I think most who hear of this Stylus (who wanted a stylus all along and may even own a "Smart Stylus" for their own iPad) will fit snugly into the same boat; tentative excitement barring actually hearing more, and ultimately getting ahold of the thing. I can watch video demos all day, but it's holding the thing which makes all the difference.
  • Most importantly...will it work with the iPhone in some capacity? Sent from the iMore App
  • Most importantly? You're going to be disappointed I believe. It requires the specific type of display in the pro. The airs can't even recognize it.
  • It will not, currently. But it doesn't require the display from what I understand—the tech is all in the pencil tip.
  • I thought the variable refresh rate of the iPad Pro allowed it to refresh at a faster rate to keep up with the input with little latency?
  • Refresh rate is important for latency, yes, but not for the connection/sensors.
  • A feature of the iPhone 7S. I presume the iPhone 7 is nearing its final planning stages.
  • Jony Ive mentions the word Stylus in the video "Stylus input".
  • I got a cheap stylus from the grocery store last year that actually works pretty good. I just find that I have very little use for it.
    That demo at the show was impressive, though.
  • Pretty much the way I felt with my Galaxy Note 3 S Pen. I used it mostly for input because it was so damn precise with that find tip. But other than that, I feel like you need to have a specific use case or workflow need for it or it ends up sitting there unused a majority of the time (or not being used anywhere near its potential).
  • "If you see a stylus, they blew it.” -Steve Jobs, 2010
  • Yes, we get it. Steve Jobs said some stuff. If Apple has a choice between doing something that makes good business sense(like making larger phones), or adhering to everything that Jobs said at some point in his life, I'd rather they do what best for the company and its customers. Besides, SJ thought 3.5 inches was the perfect size for a smartphone screen, and he was wrong. Sent from the iMore App
  • Back in 2010 when Steve said that it made sense. The technology has improved since then. Plus he was talking about if you had to use it for navigation and not drawing like the Apple Pencil is geared for.
  • Except that Samsung came out with their S-Pen in 2011 and it had amazing pressure sensitivity and integration with their system. And the updated version in 2014 has tilt/rotation sensing like the Apple Pencil. This is just another case of Apple pretending to be innovators even though they've brought nothing new to the market.
  • We heard it here folks, if you are not first don't bother doing it.
  • There it is! I was wondering how long it would take for the "Android had that xx years ago.…" posts. It's great that they already had it they are pioneers and innovators now do you feel justified about owning one? Sent from the iMore App
  • Its not about justifying anything. Its simply a retort to a flat out incorrect statement. Someone claimed the tech was subpar at the time of the quote and it clearly wasn't. The note was the best phone on the market at the time and the stylus worked perfectly and had more levels of pressure sensitivity than the current surface pro 3 does.
  • Wacom had it before iOS or Android were even considerations, a couple decades ago. ;) Hurray for OS X and Windows Desktop.
  • The world has changed since Steve Jobs died. I'm a Designer and have used my fingers to draw and it aint as good as a stylus I'm afraid. Steve Jobs was never an Artist, or a Designer - if he was he would have realised the stupidity of his 'opinion'. As a creative professional for over 25yrs - fingers just aren't the best for fine drawing on a tablet.
  • You realize he was talking about using a stylus as a primary means of input on a smartphone right?
  • If you take what he said in context, it's just as true now as it was then.
  • On a smartphone? Absolutely. Tablets are different.
  • This is what is called quoting out of context. This was the year 2010 when many other touch screen devices had to use a stylus to be able to use it to any degree. What he meant in this situation is, if a stylus is required to using the product, then it not a good product. iPad pro does not need a stylus for using it. Its only for precision drawing. So the product still adheres to the original vision while adding new capabilities. A device that works with great ease with a finger and with great precision with a pencil. Now thats a big step up. And off course apple haters will predictably use every opportunity to purposefully misinterpret it.
  • Hi Serenity, did you hear back from Rene about your questions? Mainly about palm rejection, can you rest your palm while writing with the pencil?
  • That is what I want to know as well.
    With a tablet that big, if I want to draw in the upper left quadrant, I'm going to have to sit my palm down on the device. No way around it.
  • Mashable and PC Mag say yes. Also, in Apple's video they seemed to indicate yes... https://vine.co/v/etUgZKl0laX It's a powered stylus and I'm assuming bluetooth is involved, just like FiftyThree's Pencil. The iPad's going to be able to tell what's a stylus and what isn't before anything even touches the glass.
  • In the Jony Ive vid they showed at the keynote you can see the person's palm on the screen while they draw. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yup, palm rejection works great.
  • Wonder if we'll need to read a manual for this one
  • Will Apple be more successful with a stylus than Samsung or even Microsoft? Perhaps that is why they kept it separate. In 2014 I wanted to try a Note tablet and just experiment with it. However, any stylus or pen needs to be deeply integrated with the supporting software and hardware to make it really effective. Comparing the Surface Pro 3 to this iPad Pro is also a good idea.
  • I submit the forthcoming Surface Pro 4 would be a better candidate. Both would be 2015 products.
  • I am beginning to think it would be. One thing that made me jump - the 12.9" iPad Pro seems to have a 3850mAh battery! There are now 5.5" phones with 5000mAh, so this seems terrible. I dont need a tablet thin enough to give me a paper cut, especially a table and desk bound device like this. Even an extra milimeter would fix this, so WHY?
  • What 5.5" phone has a 5000mAh battery?
  • The Asus Zenphone Max shown at IFA (I'm sorry I was wrong - that has a 6 inch screen like the Nexus 6). I think one of the many recent Huawei phones with a 5.5 inch screen has one as well; I just can't find it at this moment - there are SO many of them.
    If you build a battery in - make it BIGGER; but both Apple and Samsung are actually making them smaller; which is practically idiotic.
  • Just found another one the THL5000 (THL = Technology Happy Life) this phone only has a 5 inch screen. Obviously a different market demands different thinking.
  • The note softare is excellent for pen integration. Just hovering the pen over anything will bring up more details (for example hovering over a link or email will give the full text instead of just the short preview). It works across all the system apps and can be used for writing input in all apps. It can also be used simply to click in any app and the software has a load of features to use the pen to do actions or clip out screenshots and other things. I love the note 4 that I have and would recommend it over the 5 simply because there isn't much difference between the two of them and the 5 does not have removable battery or external storage. The benefit of the note series is that they usually are one of the best on the market hardware wise (I say usually). The screen on the note 4 was rated the best quality display on any handset in history when it was released.
  • "Can you write quickly without crazy tapping noises driving you insane or slanting your writing?" A billion times, yes. Drives me cuh-ray-zee. Also, hope they have a Find My Pencil app and it alerts you when Pencil is left behind. Worst thing about a stylus is forgetting/losing the stylus. Not a device for everybody, but for those in certain fields this looks perfect. Latency, sensitivity and feel will be key. Would have maybe preferred a different material than (what looks like) plastic.
  • "At no point during Wednesday's announcement did the company use the dreaded S-word, preferring "pencil," "device," and a few other monikers." Apple is trying to make a clear distinction - it was obviously designed mainly as a drawing tool.
  • Except that it offers no better features than Samsung's S-Pen. Not to mention Samsung's doesn't need charging either, and Artrage for Android supports all of its features.
  • So the Note works great and so does the iPad Pro. Awesome. What's your point?
  • Where do you store the Apple Pen? Can i charge the pen without using up my lightning port on the ipad? Will there be separate usb dongle for charging the pen separately if needed? How much will that cost? Did they mention how many levels of sensitivity no the pencil? How long does the pencil last?
  • I imagine the pen will come with a USB dongle for charging. But it doesn't need very much charge—15 seconds in an iPad charges it for half an hour. Battery life of 12 hours. 1000s of levels of sensitivity, but no specific numbers yet.
  • Screen refresh rate and sensitivity should in theory rocket it ahead of the S-Pen, but we'll see when we actually have both devices in hand to test. End of the day, depends on your needs and preferences.
  • Nah, the S-Pen has 2048 levels of sensitivity, which is already well above what is useful to a human, so there's nothing the Apple Pencil can do on that front which would improve anything. And refresh rate is constant just like with Wacom tech, it's independent of screen-refresh rate. They use magnetic field sensors to very finely track position and pressure.
  • I left Windows Phone in 2011 for an iPhone 5. Bought an Apple Watch (sport, if you care) on day one. Plan to upgrade to a 6S on day one. This could allow me to move from my Surface Pro 3 to an iPad and complete the transition I *NEVER* thought I would make.
  • I would suggest typing on the keyboard on your lap with the ipad pro first. Surface wasn't great, ipad pro will undoubtedly be worse.
  • Wait, what? $100 for a stylus? Good Lord.
  • Samsung did it 4 years ago and the features/integration is better than what Apple is currently showing off... And it doesn't even require charging either! Battery free design, just like a Wacom graphics tablet.
  • Ok we get it...
  • You're kidding, right? The way Rene and iMore go off on Samsung for every little thing, but you can't take some iPencil ribbing? Come on now.
  • He doesn't do it on Android Central though. He also doesn't flood their comments with the SAME comment @Kakkoii is doing.
  • People deserve to know. It's not good for people to sit in a little bubble here, unaware of news going on outside of Apple. I'm doing the world a public service :)
  • Will it work left handed? Even tho it is a quick charge 15 sec for another 30 min of use, there is still the potential for damage to the "pencil" just one accidental hit, and you could break off the tip of the lighting connector. Can it click onto the iPad Pro for storage? Pins, and pencils are easy to loose. This is silly, but "Find my phone" could also "Find my pencil" Sent from the iMore App
  • Yup, works left-handed. I don't think it's designed to primarily charge from the iPad; it's just a nice way of topping off if you bring your stylus and realize you're out of juice. Might have magnetic connector, not sure. And Find my Pencil would be awesome.
  • Did anyone see the video on how Apple wants you to charge this thing?! I give everyone that buys one exactly one charge before this thing is broken in half and stuck in the lightning port.
  • Yes, that struck me as odd too. I thought it would have a hinge of some king so it doesn't stick straight out. Would looks a bit weird.
  • When they pulled the cap off the back of the pencil exposing the male lightning port adapter, the visual of charging it made me throw up in my mouth a little. Unacceptable function decision. Just imagine, you just got done using the pencil on the ipad for a couple of hours and then you're off to the next destination. You then make the logical decision to charge the pencil between point A and point B and realize that the pencil has to stick out the bottom of your 13 inch ipad pro. Now you have to stick it in your bag with it attached to your ipad which would mean #1 you have a backpack and the pen now sticks straight up out from the two zippers keeping the bag shut, #2 you gingerly walk around with your ipad in a case with the possibility of breaking off the adapter as you may bump into stuff, #3 you don't charge it and stick your pencil in and out of the lightning port every 30 min for 15secs to get another 30 mins all the while stealing valuable battery life from the ipad itself. What a terrible idea.
  • Not designed to primarily charge through an iPad; it's just an option so that you can charge on the go if you forget to charge your pen. I imagine there will be a lightning-to-USB attachment for normal charging.
  • I can't believe how few people here seem to GET IT. Assuming genuine Palm Rejection (and this IS important), the great thing about the iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil and all the other tech specs is: RESOLUTION. I use a 21" Cintiq and it is a thing of great utility AND beauty. But its screen resolution is only 96 ppi. The Retina is closer to 250 ppi. It would be almost like drawing on the printed page! Sure, I'd still zoom and pan when required, but on my Cintiq, I have to zoom in considerably just to get a half-accurate view. When you're inking cartoons or painting small details, this is insanely great. Maybe it's my own myopia, but this new tablet & stylus combo seems MADE FOR ARTISTS. Finally.
  • I've been using the iPad Pro andPencil for a week now and I'm absolutely impressed. It's hands down the best experience I've had as a digital illustrator/designer and worth the price (especially if you can business expense it). It's smooth, accurate and crazy responsive. At first the pencil seems a bit long, but ultimately it feels completely natural, and is just heavy enough to be substantial, and also to keep from rolling too far once set down. As for the Charging tip. It's pretty hefty and would take quite a bit of force to "snap" off as a lot of people seem to be suggesting. That being said, it does indeed come with an adapter to charge via cable, and that's my preferred method. Speaking of which, it charges rather quickly, and with the battery widget in the Notification Center, you can see what percentage it's at (even if it's across the room). Again: this combo is awesome. If you're in the market for a tablet/Wacom cintique, I'd give the pro and pencil a very serious look and consideration.