Apple Pencil UI navigation functions to return in next iOS 9.3 beta, Apple says

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Responding to concerns over the crippling of Apple Pencil of usability features in iOS 9.3 beta, namely the ability to navigate iPad Pro's user interface, Apple on Tuesday confirmed such functionality will be restored in the next beta build.

Apple's response comes weeks after AppleInsider first called attention to the apparent gimping of Apple's $99 iPad Pro accessory. Apple Pencil shipped last year to serve primarily as a drawing and writing tool, but the device also doubled as a stylus for Springboard input, menu navigation and other operations normally accomplished with a finger. But that changed with the iOS 9.3 beta release in January.

"We believe a finger will always be the primary way users navigate on an iPad, but we understand that some customers like to use Apple Pencil for this as well and we've been working on ways to better implement this while maintaining compatibility during this latest beta cycle," an Apple spokesperson told The Verge. "We will add this functionality back in the next beta of iOS 9.3."

Initially, iOS beta testers expected Apple to reinstate Pencil's secondary capabilities in an ensuing software update, but as of third beta issued on Monday, the device is still limited to in-app functions like drawing. Following yesterday's beta release, some users began to speculate that the decision to restrict Pencil to drawing activities was a conscious one. Indeed, Apple CDO Jony Ive expressed concern that users might "confuse the role of the Pencil with the role of your finger in iOS."

Apple said it temporarily removed Pencil's ability to act as a finger replacement as it works to refine such functionality, the report said. Full capabilities should be restored in the upcoming iOS 9.3 beta, and will assumedly be included in the firmware's final version.