pencilThe Apple event yesterday seems to have had just a few major revelations. iOS 9 will arrive September 16, and be compatible with all current iOS 8 devices. Among other things, it will support a new multitasking view called “Slide Over” and picture-in-picture video viewing.

The new iPhone models are the 6S and the 6S Plus, which sport mostly incremental improvements and a heavier case—but still come in 16, 64, and 128 GB formats, rather than bumping the 16 to a 32 that would make more sense given how many megapixels their cameras have (12 and 5 in the newest model) and how many pictures people take now.

Apple is also giving the Apple TV another bump and positioning it as a game console rather than just a media streamer, though the more expensive consoles probably have little to worry about.

But the biggest news of the event probably centered around the new iPad Pro and its Smart Keyboard and Pencil accessories. The iPad Pro’s 12.9” screen seems made with media consumption and production in mind, especially given the optional accessory of the Pencil.

I’m going to guess that e-books probably won’t be a major draw for a screen that big, given that it’s larger than even most hardcover books and the trend seems to be toward reading e-books on smaller screens rather than larger. Nonetheless, the kind of PDFs that you previously needed a computer screen to view will look nice in that size and resolution, especially since it will be easier to view in portrait than many computer monitors. And it might be good for people with weaker eyesight, with the bigger screen area giving large-print books room to display more text.

The Pencil’s announcement met a noticeably cool reception at first, largely a reaction to its name, but it actually comes off as a fairly impressive feat of engineering. Thanks to multiple sensors in its nib, the pencil can draw extremely fine lines, but can also detect pressure and tilt in order to know when to thicken the line.

It is also, notably, a device Steve Jobs said Apple wouldn’t make, because he felt styluses were unnecessary and simply existed to get lost. But technology has marched on since Jobs made that pronouncement. (And it’s not as if Jobs remained consistent with himself back when he was alive, either—after first pooh-poohing the idea of e-books, he proceeded to orchestrate a major price-fixing conspiracy ensnaring five of the Big Six publishers in order for Apple to launch them.)

And it brings to the iPad a capability that digital artists have long wished for in their Wacom tablets—the ability to draw directly on a screen, rather than stroke a stylus against a touch-sensitive surface while watching lines appear on a separate screen. The prior iPad drawing tools simply didn’t have the fine degrees of control that a Wacom could offer, but it looks very much like the Pencil does.

In the end, Apple really didn’t announce a whole lot that was totally new—many of their innovations are things others have done before. But many of them are things Apple hasn’t done before, and Apple fans will be quite excited to see them emerge.


  1. Yawn. I’ve been using a stylus directly on the screen since I bought my Surface Pro 2 years ago, and artists rave about the Surface Pro 3’s stylus. Apple is just playing catch up here. Nothing wrong with that, and *maybe* there’s something better about this Apple Pencil (though the need to recharge it gives one pause, and the price tag gives one heartburn), but all of the articles like this one that talk about it like it’s something brand new need some perspective. Just in case you think I’m being hypocritical, I’ll note that the Surface wasn’t the first device to use a stylus either, though that is _the_ device that’s targeted by the iPad Pro.

  2. Steve Jobs made a number of comments about the stylus (see: but the one that revealed the most about his thinking on the subject IMO was, “If you need a stylus, you’ve already failed.” Indeed, no iOS device has ever **needed** a stylus. Not in 2007 and not now.
    Thus, the Apple Pencil is just another supplemental input device that borrows heavily from a long line of products available since the 90s such as Wacom’s Intros drawing tablets.
    However, there is a hint that Apple might take the stylus where no input device has gone before by combining finger and stylus input. Look for more of this kind of stuff in the future.

    Now, here’s a far out possibility. A hand-me-down from NewtonOS, Apple’s OS X still supports handwriting recognition. It’s called Ink and here’s how to make use of it:
    Jobs also disparaged handwriting but was probably referring to cursive writing or longhand because that’s all the Newton was capable at the time it got “steve-d.” He probably wasn’t thinking about shorthand or the systems that court stenographers and instant caption-writers use for near instant transcription. So, maybe the Apple Pencil will one day do shorthand and maybe one day there will be alternate keyboards for stenographers and caption writers.

  3. I’m intrigued by the iPad Pro, but not enough to pass on my iPad 3 to family. Mere readers probably don’t need it, but it should be great for graphic designers, particularly those using Adobe’s iOS apps for their initial layout. And with that marvelous screen, it should also be great for business presentations.

    That large screen increases my hope that someone will finally create an app for proofreading that’s as intelligent as the traditional paper marking up code. I hate using tedious little post-it notes for everything. Perhaps 90% of the corrections needed, i.e. transposed letters, can be marked up with a simple symbol. Even better would be a way to auto-correct documents based on those markups. Anyone listening?

    It is an old gripe of mine. Except for games, most computer software is written by developers who don’t use the app in real life. That’s why webpages looked awful for years. It’s why ebooks still lack the capabilities Gutenberg put into his first printed book. Compare his gorgeous Bible with the typical book on a Kindle. No one would call that progress.

    –Mike Perry

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