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Apple's iPad Pro designers talk about thinness and the Apple Pencil shadow

An iPad Pro showing designs for the digital shadow of the Apple Pencil Pro

In a rare interview, key Apple designers reveal why they gave the new Apple Pencil that digital shadow, and how it's part of their overall goal for the iPad Pro.

When Apple launched the latest iPad Pro with an M4 processor, it also introduced the new and well-received Apple Pencil Pro. What it didn't do was point out a design feature that was delightfully spotted by users.

If an iPad Pro user is hand writing on the device, the Apple Pencil Pro appears to throw a shadow that looks like a fountain pen. Or if the user is painting, the shadow is of a paintbrush.

This is only something Apple would do because of its obsessive attention to detail. But now Apple's Steve Lemay, in charge of human/machine interaction, says it wasn't just done because it looked good.

"In the past, we had to rely on your own memory [of which tool you had selected," said Lemay to French technology site Numerama (in translation). "We have imagined a digital shadow to make you feel like you are holding a real pencil. This convinces you that it is a sheet of paper."

Lemay also said that just adding haptic feedback to the new Pencil "was one of the most difficult things." It required the Apple Design Studio to "rethink the entire architecture [of the Apple Pencil]."

Making the iPad Pro thinner was also difficult, say the designers, but one of them, Molly Anderson, called it the number one priority for the device.

"Portability is at the heart of the iPad experience," said Anderson. "In 2010, our design intention with the first iPad was to create a sheet of magical glass, a sheet of digital paper [and we] have never been so close to this original idea."

Anderson also says that getting to this form took iterating through many different designs — and doing so in collaboration. "Our habit is to meet people in the studio," she said, "to put models on the table, sketches on the walls"

The result is what AppleInsider has described as luxury technology in an impossibly-thin package. The 2024 iPad Pro M4 is on sale now, with reputable Apple resellers discounting every model in our 11-inch iPad Pro M4 Price Tracker and 13-inch iPad Pro M4 Price Tracker.