Apple Pencil Patents Point to Interesting Future Possibilities

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Photo Source: Patently Apple

I tested more capacitive styli than I care to remember back in the early years of the iPad. I always loved the idea of using a tablet as capable as Apple’s as a digital drawing pad or notebook. However, those early products, no matter how good or expensive, always had tradeoffs associated with them and were usually exercises in frustration.

As such, once the Apple Pencil was released, I was all over it. Apple’s own stylus was a perfect match with the iPad Pro, with virtually no latency, accurate pressure sensitivity and a smooth and easy stroke. I may not be an artist, but you don’t have to be to take advantage of its versatility paired with a compatible iPad.

I’ve tested both the Surface Pen and the Pencil over the last three years and I continue to feel that Apple’s stylus is the best in the business. The first version certainly had its design quirks, but it still worked very well. The current generation of Pencil just took the logical next step, refining the design and integrating it better with the iPad Pro. It stays attached to my iPad Pro and is always charged and ready to go when I am. No dongles. No end caps to keep up with. It follows the classic Apple adage- it just works.

I was interested to see a recent Patently Apple article detailing a patent application pointing to potential future developments for the Pencil. You always have to take patent apps with a grain of salt because major electronics companies will file on pretty much anything they are thinking about, much less actually working on. That said, like a rumor, there is usually at least a grain of truth in there somewhere. If nothing else, Apple patents are a glimpse into things that Apple is at least exploring in the future.

In the case of this patent, it looks like Apple is thinking about the possibilities of adding a touchscreen to the surface of the Pencil. This seems like a logical step forward from the capacitive touch surface of the current Pencil that has added the ability to tap or double tap to switch between functions, such as writing and erasing.

A couple of examples of uses for such a screen would be to display buttons for multiple user selections and to display the function or color currently in use. It could also be used to scroll or change screen perspective directly from the Pencil. All of the above features would work together to help the user do more while keeping your hands on the Pencil and eyes on the screen.

According to the same patent application, Apple may also be looking to extend its always expanding sensing capabilities to the Pencil in the future, as well.

Additionally, the tip of Apple Pencil shown as #190 below in patent FIGS. 2 and 6 may become more sophisticated with new sensors such as contact sensors, capacitive sensors, touch sensors, cameras and/or an RGB optical sensor, piezoelectric sensors, pressure sensors, photodiodes, and/ others.

According to other embodiments, Apple Pencil may include other components including, for example, orientation detectors, gyroscopes, accelerometers, biometric readers, displays, sensors, switches (e.g., dome switches), buttons, speakers, microphones, cameras, voice coils, haptic feedback devices and more.

Source: Patently Apple

So that’s a lot. To be honest, I would be shocked of we saw all of the above come at once, if at all. This patent is likely more of a rough roadmap of what Apple may do with the Pencil over a much longer period. However, when you think about their growing interest in Augmented Reality and the rumors of new AR Glasses and features coming to the iPad and iPhone, Apple adding some of these sensing features to a future Apple Pencil does makes sense.

As for thinking about the next Apple Pencil to arrive in another year or two, the touchscreen idea seems pretty interesting. If done right, a small screen with Apple’s haptic feedback tech could be a great way to extend the current gen Pencil’s touch sensitivity to put more selections directly on the device. Also, being able to see the current color, mode, etc that’s in use while keeping your eyes on the screen is one of those user-centric features that pushes the experience of using a device forward a bit.

All conjecture aside, there is absolutely no guarantee that Apple will ever use any of these features in a future version of the Apple Pencil. However, this application is a good indication that they have thought about them and have possibly put R&D time and money into prototyping and testing them. Something interesting to keep in mind here is also that, while this application only came to light recently, it was originally filed by Apple back in Q3 of 2018. So, if Apple is working on this tech, it isn’t something new, but rather work that’s been happening over the course of a year.

Again, don’t expect a new Pencil with a touchscreen to show up with the next version of the iPad Pro. However, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the rumor mill past that to see if Apple puts any of these potential features into a future version of the Pencil.


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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