The minimalist’s guide to the Apple Pencil

Apple, iPad, iOS 9, tablet, iPad Pro
Credit: Apple

The quick guide to Apple Pencil

Designed for use with iPad Pro, the $99 Apple Pencil is a precision writing and drawing instrument for creative expression. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

How much?

See above ($99).

Setup

Setup is incredibly simple. Remove the lid from the top of the pencil (where an electronic eraser should be) and you’ll find a Lightning connection. Plug that connection and the pen into your iPad and the device will be paired.

Uh-oh

That’s right. When the Pencil is connected to your iPad it is directly connected – if your iPad gets knocked over by kids, gremlins or the next-door neighbor’s cat, there’s a big chance the Lightning connector on the tablet could break. To prevent this Apple provides an adaptor that allows you to use a cable to charge the input implement.

What it does

Designed to work with iPad Pro, Apple Pencil was “painstakingly designed” by Apple  to feel, well, like a pencil (or a paintbrush or a pen). The tiny delay between when you write and the image appearing on the screen is so negligible, it’s like using a “real” pencil.

What about the tech?

The iPad Pro scans the signal coming from the pencil 240 times each second (twice as fast as it scans your finger when using MultiTouch). This helps provide the low latency and accuracy you need.

Is it pressure sensitive?

Apple Pencil is pressure sensitive. It contains a range of sensors and can figure out how much pressure you are applying when you draw, with more pressure creating thicker lines. Built in tilt sensors mean it can identify when you tilt the pen and change the on-screen effect accordingly -- when shading an image, for instance.

Position, force and tilt

Signals emitted from two locations in the Pencil’s tip help iPad pro calculate the angle/tilt of the pen. You can use a finger at the same time if you wish. Apple’s Jony Ive claims the company had to reengineer MultiTouch to enable support for both fingers and stylus.

Does it support palm rejection?

Apple has not confirmed if palm rejection is supported. I have had no problem resting my palm on the iPad while I draw without leaving stray marks on my (admittedly poor) artistic creations. An Ars Technica report has said palm rejection is supported.

Does it work with older iPads or iPhones?

No.

Battery life

You charge the Pencil using the Lightning connector. A full charge provides 12 hours of use, but if you run out while working on a project you will get 30-minutes just by plugging in for 15-seconds.

What apps support it?

Notes, Mail and a growing range of third-party creative apps support the device. More apps here.

What’s this bit of plastic?

Apple provides a single spare tip in the box – so expect the pencil tip to wear away in use. The company doesn’t yet sell replacement tips, but intends to.

Review 1: Does it work?

It works very well. I’ve been using it to sketch, draw and annotate images and PDFs;  I’ve had no instances in which I’ve had to wait for a pen stroke to appear on screen. In use, it feels natural, familiar and enables you to work fluidly – just like a real pencil (but more expensive).

Review 2: What could improve?

While heavier than most pens, the Pencil feels natural in use and the zero latency makes it great to use. I would like to be able to use the top of the pencil as an eraser. I also think Apple should figure out some way to “ping” the pen to help you find it when you mislay it in your busy graphics design studio or office. At $99 a pop, you will want to find it.

Anything else?

I think Siri support in the Pencil or the tablet may provide interesting future creative possibilities: “Siri, change the color to red”, “Erase the last penstroke”, “Using the scale included in the drawing, alert me when the next line I draw extends to 15-feet.” I’m sure there’s lots of potential for connected technologies like these to continue to transform the creative process. After all, the pen(cil) is mightiest, right?

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