These are exciting times for Apple fans. The long-awaited 12.9” iPad Pro released a few days back – and according to projections, a whopping 2.6 million units of the device will be sold by the end of this year. According to software and app developers, the new offering from Apple will be arresting the slide in iPad sales that we have witnessed over the past few quarters. One of the most interesting accessories that the iPad Pro comes with is a stylus (would Steve Jobs have scoffed at it?) – called Apple Pencil. Let us here take a tour of the good and the not-so-good features of the Apple Pencil:
- (Good) Look & Feel – Trust Apple to come up with smart-looking devices and accessories every single time. The white-colored, bluetooth-powered Apple Pencil has a sleek metal band near the back end – close to the charging point. The weight is nicely distributed, with the writing end being slightly lighter than the charging end. Device analysts and iPad software/app developers have opined that holding the Apple Pencil feels almost similar to gripping an actual pencil. An extra tip is provided as well in the box. Provided that the Pencil is not held too close to the writing tip (which can cause the stylus to become unbalanced), using it is an absolute breeze.
- (Not-so-good) Cylindrical Shape – The completely cylindrical shape of the Apple Pencil can be a point of inconvenience for the slightly absent-minded user. There are no stands, and the stylus can very easily roll off desks and tables. A clip or a magnetic strip on the body of the Pencil would have helped matters a lot here. As it is, misplacing the Pencil is fairly easy – and that is not something any user would like!
- (Good) Recharging – According to reports and reviews from software and mobile app development forums online, ultra-fast recharging is one of the best features of Apple’s new stylus. The overall battery life of Pencil is 12 hours – but a closer look would reveal the excellent recharging features of the device. All that users have to do is plug in the lightning connector to the iPad Pro (yep, no external plug-points/charging stations required) – and it takes all of 6 minutes to get Apple Pencil fully charged (i.e., from 0%). Running short of time? Worry not – within 15 seconds, the stylus gets up to 30 minutes of battery juice.
- (Not-so-good) Device compatibility – Apple might expand the compatibility of the Apple Pencil over time – but for the moment, it is usable ONLY with the $799 iPad Pro. This really opens up the opportunity for other existing styluses (from Fifty Three to Wacom) which have multi-device support, to keep the the adoption rate of Apple Pencil at a low level. Yes, the new stylus brings in advanced granularity and takes sensitivity to an all new level – but it should have been usable on at least the iPhone 6S (along with the iPad Pro). There is a section of the global iOS app development community which feels that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of Apple to push the Pencil along with iPad Pro.
- (Good) Near-zero latency – Apple Pencil shrugs off a common problem that bugs most other iPhone/iPad styluses – the lag time (or latency) between the time a user starts drawing, and when the same appears on device screens. The signal from Apple Pencil is scanned at the rate of 240-per-second, resulting in outstanding responsiveness of the stylus. Early adopters have also corroborated Apple’s claim that the iPad Pro can indeed distinguish between touches with the Pencil and simple finger touches. There is hardly any lag here, and drawings appear almost instantaneously.
- (Not-so-good) That plasticky feel – While it is easy to hold and use Apple Pencil, it is interesting to note that the Cupertino company decided to go with a plastic body of the stylus. This is a move that is in contrast with the dedication with which the company stays away from using plastic in any of its flagship devices (except for the disappointing iPhone 5C). Surely the developers at Apple could have opted for a more sophisticated full-metal body, along with a support clip?
- (Good) Workable with third-party applications – In addition to full support for all of the built-in apps in the iPad Pro (which has the iOS 9 OS), Apple’s stylus can be used with third-party apps downloaded from the App Store as well. This, in turn, ensures that users can have a complete app-using experience, while using the ambitious (and not exactly inexpensive!) new tablet. iPad app developers have to make sure that the applications they come up with can be operated with the stylus. Otherwise, it will be an opportunity wasted.
- (Not-so-good) The price tag – Apple has always been a maker of premium, high-end products, and Pencil carries on with the tradition. Those who have bought/are planning to buy the iPad Pro will need to shell out a further $99 (or 79 Pounds) to get the Apple Pencil. The point here is, there are several styluses already in the market that offer multi-device support (unlike Pencil’s iPad Pro-only property) that are priced at much lower levels. Apart from hardcore Apple fanboys and girls, it remains to be seen whether the superior functional features of Apple Pencil are able to motivate general users into replacing their existing styluses with the new drawing tool.
- (Good) Drawing and adding shades – Apple Pencil comes up trumps when it comes to creative drawing and shading on the iPad screen. As already mentioned above, there is no lag to speak off, and the built-in pressure sensors of the stylus can differentiate between a light brush and a harder press. Thicker, bolder lines can be sketched by pressing down the tip of Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro screen while drawing. Creating a wide range of shading effects is easy too – thanks to the pair of tilt sensors placed near the Pencil’s tip. With help from the Multi-Touch display of the iPad Pro, the sensors can detect the orientation and the angle at which the Pencil is held, and help in creating shades accordingly. It’s just like tilting the good ol’ wooden pencils to create shades on paper.
- (Good) A great tool for 3D graphic designers – Mobile animators and app designers have been more than excited over the possibility of making 3D shapes and sketches with the Apple Pencil. Once again, the sensors of the Pencil would be instrumental in helping these creative artists draw the shapes that they want to. Provided that there is someone to hold up the iPad Pro while the designers start to work – there is indeed ample scope to manipulate objects and assets in the 3D space, by carving with the Apple Pencil.
- (Good) Using Pencil with the iPad Notes app – The ruler feature is one of the new features of iOS 9, and according to device testers and mobile app development professionals – this feature would perfectly complement the Apple Pencil. Users will be able to draw straight lines without any hitch, since the iPad Pro system can distinguish between touches from the Pencil tip and palm, wrist, finger touches. Apart from sketching and drawing in Notes, users can also make creative doodles with the stylus. There is also a built-in highlighter that helps people keep track of their important tasks.
- (Not-so-Good) The overall integration – It’s very early days for the Apple Pencil, and things might change as the newer versions/models of the stylus are launched. For now though, it is not as well integrated with the iPad Pro as the Surface Pen (with Microsoft Surface Pro 3) and the S-Pen (with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5). For instance, the former has a button for quick access to the note-taking app on the Microsoft tablet. The fact that Apple Pencil has to be separately bought (both Surface Pen and S-Pen are free with their companion devices) does not do it any favours either. Over time though, Apple Pencil can certainly become as integrated and compact as any of its rivals.
Eight years after the famous ‘Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not make a stylus’ quip from Steve Jobs, his company has gone ahead with making the Apple Pencil. To put matters into context, that comment was made at the 2007 iPhone keynote, and that moment, styluses were certainly not in favour among most people. Reviews of the Apple Pencil from early users, device analyzers and iPad app developers have been mostly positive so far. There are a few rough edges still, but those should be smoothed out over the next few months.
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