When I first bought the Apple Pencil in late 2015, I thought I’d bring it everywhere. It was one of the coolest iPad accessories I’d ever seen, and the low latency and high accuracy for drawing and handwriting was just unbelievable. I’d used a lot of third party stylii — including the Pencil by Fifty Three — before the Apple Pencil’s release, but none of the competitors even came close to Apple’s product.
What I thought I’d use the Pencil for
I thought the Pencil would open up a whole new world of iPad usage for me; I was toying with the idea of bringing a paper notebook with me everywhere, but the Pencil and iPad Pro seemed like an amazing alternative.
Evernote had introduced their handwriting capability by that point, which allowed me to insert an entire screen’s worth of doodles or writing into a note. What’s more, these handwritten notes could also be detected by Evernote’s OCR, so that I could search for my handwritten notes later on.
This sounded amazing, but the issue for me was that Evernote’s handwriting module was never paginated. Instead, each new drawing was center-aligned in the note, like a new picture. This makes sense for a single drawing sharing a page with typed notes and imported pictures, but it never felt natural to me to swipe vertically through several screens of handwriting.
Evernote’s handwriting engine was based on Penultimate (which they purchased a few years ago), and Penultimate still features a paginated interface for its notebooks. I spent a few weeks trying Penultimate, OneNote, and Paper as notebook replacements, but none of the apps stuck for very long as a substitute. A real notebook was simpler and easier.
Some part of this may be my iPad Pro’s size — at 12.9 inches, it’s really more the size of a small sketch book than a notebook. It’s not something I can casually take out of my bag and doodle a note on.
What I actually used the Pencil for
When I do take the time to sit down and drawing on the larger iPad Pro, it is still a really wonderful experience thanks to the Apple Pencil. I create occasional diagrams for work and export them to PNG with full transparencies, and Procreate makes that a breeze to do. I’ve also used Paper note for notes, but for little sketches. It’s fun to swipe between the pages after a few months and see the different designs I’ve come up with.
However, these really are my two major activities with the Pencil: two different types of drawing. I’m glad that I got a Pencil because I really wanted to check the technology out, but like with this iPad Pro, I don’t think I’ve really gotten my money’s worth from the purchase yet.
I think the Pencil, like the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, is ultimately under-utilized technology. It’s the kind of accessory that could really change the way I accomplish major tasks on the iPad. If iOS supported 3D touch via the Pencil, I could browse in Safari by tapping harder on a link to open it in a new tab, or lightly tap on a link to get a small thumbnail preview before really loading the page. Better Pencil integration could also be used in PDF apps to switch between flicking to scroll, and tapping harder to enter an “annotate” mode. It will probably be incredible for Lightroom touch-ups, but we’re still waiting on that update.
My point is that, although the Pencil already does a lot to realize the potential of apps like Procreate and Paper, I think there are far broader uses of the accessory that could generate a lot more sales for Apple. As much fun as this accessory has been to use, I don’t think I’ll be buying the next version until Apple really takes the time to think about how the Pencil enhances the iPad experience as a whole.