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Jony Ive: Apple Pencil is made for marking, not a 'stylus' finger replacement

In an interview discussing Apple Pencil's design and subsequent development, Apple CDO Jony Ive said one of the team's main goals was to create an input tool clearly for making marks, not a finger replacement.




Speaking with Tony Chambers from Wallpaper*, Ive said Apple Pencil is in some ways a natural extension of Apple's iOS development. That Apple's multitouch user interface requires only fingers to operate makes it intuitive, but certain activities like drawing and sketching are better accomplished with traditional form factor tools.

"What we found is that there's clearly a group of people that would value an instrument that would enable then [sic] to paint or draw in ways that you just can't with your finger," Ive said. "And I suspect that this isn't a small group of people. I don't think it's confined to those of us who went to art school."

Apple Pencil is not intended to be used as a stylus, that is as a replacement for your finger. Ive believes the design itself makes it clear Pencil is to be implemented specifically for making marks, drawing, sketching and note taking.

"So we are very clear in our own minds that this will absolutely not replace the finger as a point of interface. But it is, and I don't think anybody would argue, a far better tool than your finger when your focus becomes exclusively making marks," he said. "The traditional pencil could have been replaced by a dish of powdered charcoal, which you dipped your finger into to make marks with. And that didn't happen."

"So we are very clear in our own minds that this will absolutely not replace the finger as a point of interface. But it is, and I don't think anybody would argue, a far better tool than your finger when your focus becomes exclusively making marks." - Jony IveTo realize Apple Pencil, Ive and company had to perform an analysis of the "traditional experience of the analogue world" before translating that experience to a digital medium. The process was a case study in Apple's design philosophy, as Ive's team distilled the act of writing and drawing down to the fundamentals, observing the "tiniest details of in terms of what we do and how we do it, and why we do it."

Apple came away from the exercise with a better understanding of how we as collective users approach and accomplish everyday tasks, information that can be applied beyond Pencil, Ive said.

Building those teachings into an electronic device was no mean feat. Not only did Apple have to find a way to cram sensors, a rechargeable battery and control hardware into Pencil's unassuming design, but it also had to develop new supporting technologies for iPad as well. Ive mentioned the system's low latency, a feature made possible by a bespoke display subsystem that samples Pencil-to-screen interaction 240 times per second. By comparison, iPad Pro collects data at half that rate when tracking finger input.

As for Apple's decision to name its new device something other than a variation on "stylus," Ive said he likes the Pencil moniker as it's "very analogue in its association." Assigning the tool a particular name was a challenge because Pencil will ultimately become many different tools thanks to pressure- and tilt-sensing technology. Apps available in the iOS App Store help push this idea of a multi-tool further along, with the current selection enabling use as a paintbrush, drafting tool, fountain pen and more.