Steve Jobs once said “if you see a stylus, they blew it”, and this is a line you can pretty much expect geeks and Apple-haters to have ready at their disposal before they even use the iPad Pro.
It’s an easy line to jab with, mind you, but times change, people change, and designs change, too.
After spending a week with an iPad Pro, we can’t imagine this tablet without it.
First, let’s take a look at the stylus we’re talking about: the Apple Pencil.
Trust Apple to make a stylus totally different, because while everyone has a pen, Apple has a pencil, and it’s a stylus that feels more like its namesake than most others.
For starters, it looks like the sort of pencil a graphic artist might keep with them, with a tall single colour barrel culminating in a replaceable tip, complete with a silver strap around the pencil back that defines what the pencil is.
No, this isn’t a 2B or 4B; this is the Apple Pencil, complete with a shiny Apple logo in play. At that back near where the rubber would normally be, you’ll find the back even pops off, providing a charge and pair plug for Apple Lightning, the same port used on the iPhone and iPad.
Inside the Pencil, Apple is relying on a combination of sensors to work out how you’re holding the pen, and then how you’re applying pressure. There are even sensors in the tip to accomodate if you decide to use the pencil to shade in using the edge, and these sensors work in conjunction with that variable refresh rate technology.
“Ah,” you probably say to yourself, “this is the real reason there’s a technology like this in the iPad Pro.”
If you said this, give yourself a pat on the back for being an uber-geek, because one of the main reasons the iPad Pro is changing the refresh rate is to pick up on the pencil tip, working as we understand, around 240 times per second (we’re guessing this probably translates to a 120Hz refresh rate).
With this technology in play, you can draw with pencil to paper-like fluidity, and the only thing you’re really missing out on is the texture of the paper.
Sure, it won’t feel like your pencil movements are carving into the canvas or cartridge paper, but you’ll have a digital equivalent with an on-screen Retina resolution piece of art.
Charging the pencil is easy, too, with this happening when you take that rear cap off and plug it into the Lightning port at the bottom of the screen, which will also pair the pencil the first time you get it.
We spent time drawing and reliving our days at art school, quickly relearning how terrible we were at drawing, before realising that it could work as a natural stylus, which is super handy for signing documents and marking up files, before going back to the whole doodling side of things and playing with Procreate.
One app grabbed our attention truly, and that was UMake, an app that allowed us to experiment with pen-drawing into 3D which we’re not good enough yet in to demonstrate our efforts, but it was definitely something that showed what iOS development and a decent stylus can do.
Artists will likely get the most out of this pen, however, and given that, we can see why it’s an optional purchase.
We’re actually quite curious to see how teachers and students deal with the iPad Pro, because this could work as a digital Visual Arts Process Diary (VAPD), albeit an expensive one that you’d have to package into PDF for your slightly out-of-date teachers.
In our time with the pencil, we’ve found it to be enjoyable to use, and given that it will work with more than just drawing apps — think Photoshop and the like — people who work in the creative fields are definitely targeted, but it’s a little more than that too, with architects and anyone who prefers a straight line able to get a digital on-screen ruler.
There’s only one thing stopping it: where are you supposed to leave the Pencil?
That appears to be one area where Apple hasn’t thought things through, as there’s no clip, no magnetic edge, and really nowhere for you to leave the Pencil when it’s not in use, except for say, holding it in your pocket or balancing it in the crevice that is the top of your ear.
Just don’t lose it is all we’re saying, as it is a $165 purchase. Yeesh.