Apple Pencil is a writing and drawing tool introduced by Apple in 2015 for iPad. There are three models available depending on a user's needs, budget, and iPad in use.
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Apple Pencil is in its second generation, pairing with the modern iPad Pro, the iPad Air 5, and iPad mini 6. The second-generation model is smaller, has lower latency, and includes a double-tap gesture.
The original model with a Lightning connector and an updated 2023 model with USB-C are also available. The lineup provides choices for everyone from the serious artist to the casual note taker.
The original product was widely panned by critics who would quote Steve Jobs: "If you see a stylus, you blew it." This quote is often misattributed to styluses in general, while Jobs was referring to smartphones at the time of the first iPhone launch.
Though it is well-known that Jobs hated the idea of needing to keep up with such a tool, it is uncertain whether he would have said the same about Apple Pencil. The iPad is still touch-first and doesn't rely on a tool for input — it's optional, which is key.
Usually, the smarts are held within the tablet or drawing device, not the stylus itself. The Apple Pencil runs its own firmware on a tiny curved motherboard, making it unique among styluses.
"Apple Pencil 3" Rumors
Little has been shared about the possible next-generation Apple Pencil. Leakers claiming to have images of the device show a glossy plastic finish similar to the first-generation model and a flat side for charging.
No technologies have leaked, but some speculate that a new model could come in different color options or at least a black option.
A different rumor set expected Apple to release a cheaper model powered by the device display similar to the Galaxy S Pen. It would have cost $50 and worked with the 10.9-inch iPad and iPhone models, but it was apparently scrapped at the last moment in favor of the USB-C model.
Rumors have shifted to a third-generation model that resembles the second, but it would offer interchangable tips. The so-called "Apple Pencil Pro" could still arrive in 2024.
Apple Pencil 2
The Apple Pencil 2 corrects all the cited issues of the first-generation model without too many compromises. It has a matte finish that feels good in the hand, and one side is flat to enable inductive charging via a magnetic attachment to the iPad.
A mid-cycle software update enabled the latency to decrease from 20ms to 9ms, aided by an increased refresh rate via ProMotion on iPad Pro. This enables a near-zero-lag writing and drawing experience in most apps.
An added motion coprocessor enables users to perform a double-tap action that performs different functions based on the app. It can switch colors, change tools, or do whatever the user sets based on what the developer provides.
The Apple Pencil is also able to detect the pressure and angle of a stroke to represent it in-app accurately. This means you can go from heavy fine lines to a thick shading line by altering your grip, just as you would with a real pencil.
Some wear and tear issues have come up since the second-generation model's release. The rounded tip at the bottom of the Pencil seems to be a different material and easily stained.
The flat portion used for charging can get discolored over time as heat from charging causes the plastic to discolor. However, the Pencil itself seems durable and doesn't seem to break easily without some undue force.
Some users were able to get replacements from Apple if the discoloration was bad enough around the charging connections. New tips are cheap at only $20 for a pack of four.
Apple Pencil gained some new tricks in iPadOS 14. You can now use the Pencil to write text into any text-entry block on iPadOS.
The text recognition is instant, placing the typed text in line as you write. Though, it might take some practice to get the writing patterns down for this kind of input.
Another small change to the drawing API is that it recognizes shapes as they are drawn, so they can be automatically transformed into better-looking objects upon completion. The user can draw a shape and leave the Pencil resting on the display to see it transform into a perfect version of the object.
Data detection for text has been added as well. Now, if you write down a phone number or address, it will be selectable to make a call or search.
Tap-to-select gestures are also available with the Apple Pencil, working as they do in typed text. Tap once to select a word, twice to select a line, and users can copy written text as typed text for pasting into other documents.
When writing in multiple languages, like with Chinese characters, Scribble will automatically detect this when copying and pasting.
New display technology in the M2 iPad Pro adds a new level of interactivity for Apple Pencil users. Holding the tip of the Pencil just above the display enables different controls or previews to appear depending on the app in use.
For writing or drawing apps, users will see a preview of the stroke when hovering. So, depending on the tool in use, line thickness, and angle, the hover preview will show exactly what line will be made when the Pencil touches the display.
Other uses include tooltip actions, app controls, and more based on how the developer implements hover actions.
Apple Pencil (USB-C)
Apple revealed a new Apple Pencil in October 2023 that sits at an odd place in the lineup. The USB-C model isn't the long-rumored Apple Pencil 3, nor is it an upgraded original with a USB-C connector.
Instead, Apple arrived somewhere in the middle of the existing models. Apple Pencil (USB-C) has the same design as Apple Pencil 2, but lacks the ability to charge via magnets, doesn't have pressure sensitivity or hover, and has a hidden USB-C port.
The top of the Pencil slides back to reveal the USB-C port. This design allows for a hidden port without the risk of having a removable cap that can be easily lost.
Apple introduced the USB-C model as a new alternative to the original model, specifically for 10.9-inch iPad customers. However, it will work with any iPad compatible with Apple Pencil thanks to pairing via the USB-C port.
The Apple Pencil with USB-C is available at $79, which is the lowest price ever for Apple's stylus. It seems to be a bridge for casual users needing a modern model while power users await a future pro model.
First-generation Apple Pencil
The original Apple Pencil was launched with the first-generation iPad Pro in September 2015. The Apple stylus' launch was seen as an interesting turn for the tablet line.
Now digital artists could vie for an iPad with full support for drawing and graphic design, offering an entire computing tablet for around the same price as some PC-based drawing tablets.
The first-generation model is still for sale and has propagated down the entire iPad line. It is usable with any recent iPad housing a lightning connector.
The first-generation model has a larger footprint and removable cap that houses a male lightning connector, which connects directly to the bottom of the iPad. This causes the Pencil to stick out from the bottom of the iPad precariously, leading to users concern over the longevity of such a connection, as the connector may snap off entirely during a charge.
This Apple Pencil had a perfectly cylindrical body and glossy case. It's a bit thicker than the second-generation model and can feel a bit hard on the fingers after long use.
It has all the same tilt and pressure sensing as the second-generation model but with higher latency. If you use the Pencil on a ProMotion Display, you'll see less lag overall because of the increased sampling rate, increasing from 120Hz to 240Hz while the Pencil is present.
However, the first-generation Pencil still shows much more lag than the Pencil 2's own 9ms latency.
Despite bizarre design decisions like how it charges or lack of storage, the first Pencil was quite well-received and is still sold today for use with some iPad models.
Bafflingly, Apple released the 10.9-inch iPad in 2022 that supports only the first-generation Pencil model. Since the tablet has a USB-C port, it needs an adapter to pair and charge the Lightning-based stylus.
Users that own a Mac and iPad can take advantage of a system called SideCar. The iPad can become an extended display for the Mac, and some apps even offer special functionality with touch controls and more.
Drawing apps, photo editors, and other tools take advantage of SideCar to enable a Wacom-like mode that enables users to interact with the Mac app via Apple Pencil. Some apps have special settings areas for setting up controls when using SideCar.
The mode requires no additional hardware and can work either wired or wirelessly.
Apple Pencil Pricing
The first-generation Apple Pencil retails for $99, the second-generation runs for $129, and the USB-C model is $79.