Review: iPad Pro in Anger – Day Three: The Pencil

Next -> Day Four: Note Taking Apps
Day Five: Battery Life

Inking on a device is hardly new. The US Robotics Palm Pilot back in 1996 used a stylus for input. In compute powered devices, the Compaq TC1000 and later TC1100 Tablets also used a Wacom Active Stylus, back in 2003.

Microsoft has been working with Tablet Edition, and Inking, for well over a decade. Close to two in fact. Largely this has been aimed at the corporate user. A vain attempt to replace the paper notebook with a single digital device. Overwhelmingly this has been unsuccessful. Before it’s time. Long enough battery life, portable (i.e. thin & light) devices, and ubiquitous connectivity were all non-existent. Until now. Then there was the culture shift to become comfortable writing on glass.

When it comes to “post-PC” tablets, Samsung has dominated this space from a device perspective with their “S” pen on the Galaxy Tab and Note devices. Although again, the Samsung devices seem to be marketed at corporate users, rather than artists and creatives.

So, as is often the case with Apple, there is a lot of “me too” with the advent of their “Pencil” on the iPad Pro. Jobs was famously against it. (Although there’s a smattering of irony that the people crowing about Jobs’ disdain for the stylus are the same that crow about Apple no longer being able to innovate)

On the other hand Apple do excel in design, and by extension, with the creative audience.

But closing on 20 years is a little late to the party…

…Or is it?

With the Apple Pencil, they have excelled indeed.

Stacking Up

When it comes to comparisons, the Pencil handles all of the corporate note taking and annotation functionality of the Windows and Android eco-systems. There is no discernible lag, even on apps that aren’t (yet) configured to work with the Pencil explicitly. Even getting thicker lines by pressing harder, like you would with real ink (or graphite) works as well, if not better than other styluses.

Annotating Word and PowerPoint documents is a breeze. Far more intuitive than typing comments, and far more practical than for collaboration than annotating paper. The iPad Pro is also big enough to avoid the compromises of other tablets like having to zoom, or not be able to see the whole page.

Talking about collaboration. Using the app you can host web based conferences, from the iPad Pro, and whiteboard natively. This really will revolutionise remote collaboration. There’s something about whiteboarding a discussion that makes it more meaningful than merely an audio conference, or static slides. And there’s something about the ease of doing this from a tablet, that is natively connected to 4G, able to broadcast and connect from anywhere, not just the corporate meeting room, that makes it compelling.

Then there’s the length. When you first unbox it you think “Wowzer. That. Is. Long.” Others wax on about it feeling more substantial, useable. I haven’t found this. Either way. The weight, balance, and thickness of the Pencil is perfect (for me) And I guess the length alters the C-of-G, so must contribute to the UX. Practically this has probably more to do with battery life than any particular aesthetic.

The Next Level

But there is so much more to the Pencil!

Shading. O. M. G.

Imagine an endless canvas. A pencil that when you shade it doesn’t blunt the tip. A pencil that never needs sharpening.

Imagine being able to control the pigment/water ratio in your watercolour. Just by angle of the brush, and pressure on the page.

I forsee a rash of (kids &) adult colouring in Apps for the iPad Pro. Other entryways to art, like paint by numbers, and sketching apps will surely begin appearing.

This is the difference between the 20 years of Microsoft (Wacom) work on ink, and Apple’s approach.

Switching to calligraphy (fountain pen), or watercolour paintbrush, or pencil, works so intuitively, so natively, it has inspired me to draw much more. I want to sketch. In fact, I want to take some sketching, drawing, and basic art courses just to, well, express myself. I’ve often thought about sketching a plan, or drawing a cartoon, on the blog. Previously, short of snapping a notepad (not to mention having access to pencils, brushes, calligraphy pens) you couldn’t do that.

On The Road & In the Office

Here’s where I reckon Apple have dropped the ball. Not only is there no way to secure the Pencil in, or on, the iPad Pro, but it doesn’t even have a 20c shirt-pocket clip. For an AU$150 device this is a pretty significant oversight.

There are workarounds of course. But a workaound? Really Apple? You couldn’t have spent another couple of hours brainstorming and figuring out an elegant way to secure the Pencil?

What is good on the road, is the charging of the Pencil. You simply stick it in the end of the iPad Pro, or via an adapter, connect it to a Lightning Charger. The Pencil charges rapidly, makes almost no dent on the battery life of the iPad Pro, and lasts a good few days depending on quite how much you ink.

Seeing how much battery is as simple as swiping down the Notification Centre.

Finding Apps

I take handwritten and sketched notes. Part mindmap, part bulletted lists, part basic drawings, part charts. Kind’ve a mashup from Dan Roam’s “The Back of the Napkin

Already there are a number of note taking apps that provide (even basic) support for the Pencil. The following are the few that I’m trying:

  • Evernote – Actually I’ve used Evernote (incl with Ink) since 2009
  • OneNote – An old Windows Tablet favourite from 2007
  • Apple Notes
  • Penultimate – owned by Evernote
  • Paper by 53

More on those tomorrow.

Day Five: Battery Life

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