When will Apple release the new Apple Pencil 2 in the UK? What tech specs and new features will the Apple Pencil 2 offer, and what differences should we expect between the Apple Pencil and the Apple Pencil 2?
Apple's stylus for the iPad Pro, called simply the Apple Pencil, is arguably the best tablet stylus in the world right now. But we don't want Apple to rest on its laurels, and we're keen to see what Sir Jony Ive's design team comes up with when the Apple Pencil 2 is unveiled. In this article we look at the rumours, clues, patent filings and more evidence to suggest when the Apple Pencil 2 will launch and the design changes and new features it's likely to incorporate.
Updated 22 February 2017, with a patent showing off touch and force sensors for the Apple Pencil; 9 February 2017, with predictions that the Apple Pencil 2 will feature a clip (to stop it rolling off tables) and attach to the iPad Pro 2 with magnets; and on 19 Jan, with rumours from the supply chain pointing to a March 2017 release.
New Apple Pencil 2 release date rumours: Release date
The latest rumour from Apple's supply chain (Chinese-language site) points to an Apple Pencil 2 launch in March 2017, alongside the iPad Pro 2: updates, we hope, to both the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch versions of that device.
"Wei Feng network through the supply chain that Apple will be held in March this year, iPad new conference, when a new generation of Apple Pencil stylus will also be unveiled," says the site, as interpreted by Google Chrome's translate function. This fits with previous expectations of when Apple was likely to announce a major update to the iPads. (We had hoped for a minor update to the iPads late last year, however.)
The first Apple Pencil was unveiled alongside the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in September 2015, so the most obvious time to expect an update was in autumn 2016. That's certainly what we were hoping for. But 2016 came and went with no update to the Apple Pencil.
New Apple Pencil 2 release date rumours: Design
So much for the Apple Pencil 2's release date. But what will the next Apple Pencil look like?
Some momentum is building around the rumour that the next Apple Pencil and the next iPad Pro will be able to attach to each other using magnets. Obviously this would be much more convenient than the current state of affairs, where the Pencil tends to roll off and get lost on the floor.
The latest report to back this theory comes from Letemsvetemapplem, who cite "information directly from suppliers in China" and claim that "in accordance with the patent which Apple acquired in September last year, you [will be able to] attach a pencil to iPad using the magnet [just as] the original Apple iPad Smart Case covers the display". (The site is in Czech; both quotes are based on Google Translate.)
On a similar note, the same site claims that the Apple Pencil 2 will have a small clip, much like a traditional pen. This will mean you can clip the Pencil to your pocket, of course, but seems more likely a simple solution to the problem of the perfectly round pencil rolling across desks and not staying in one place.
New Apple Pencil 2 release date rumours: New features
So much for the Apple Pencil 2's release date. But what new features can we expect?
Compatibility with more apps
It's desperately vague at the moment, but word on the street suggests Apple is focusing on expanding the range of applications with optimised support for the Apple Pencil.
Wei Feng, the Chinese-language site already quoted in the release date section, writes: "The so-called Apple Pencil 2 will have what kind of characteristics? According to the supply chain, the answer is 'compatible with a large number of applications'."
Like most tech journalists, I suspect that the development and launch of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro was at least partly a response to the relative success of Microsoft's Surface line of tablets, which also have large screens and latterly come with styluses. (And are marketed at business users.) But the stylus for the Surface Pro 4, while weaker in many respects than the Apple Pencil, has one clear advantage: the option to buy interchangeable replacement nibs of various sizes and shapes. (You can buy replacement nibs for the Apple Pencil but they're always the same default size and shape.)
An Apple patent has been discovered, however, which suggests that future Apple Pencils may offer a similar feature.
Patent 9,329,703, filed in 2011 and published on 3 May 2016, describes an "intelligent stylus" where each nib has its own sensor, which pairs with a separate sensor in the body of the stylus.
"The stylus 110 can include multiple sensors to provide information about its condition, where the sensors can be selectively used alone or in various combinations," reads the patent's detailed description. "The ability to provide information beyond simply touch input information, particularly information about the stylus's condition that the stylus determines itself, gives this stylus an intelligence absent from a traditional stylus."
Returning to patent 9,329,703, Apple also mentions the possibility of turning the back end of the Apple Pencil into an eraser.
From the detailed description: "For the additional contact/proximity sensor at the stylus non-tip end, the MCU can determine the stylus's condition at the non-tip end as touching or hovering over a surface, e.g., to emulate an eraser."
Another Apple patent, originally filed in Q4 2014 but published in February 2017, reveals plans for an Apple pencil with multiple touch and force sensors along the body of the device. The sensors could be used to detect touch gestures along the device, as well as when the Pencil is being rotated. They could also detect how much pressure is being used in order to control scrolling or zooming, or use pinching as a way to 'pick up' and move on-screen objects.
One last titbit from patent 9,329,703's detailed description: "…the MCU [microcontroller unit] can extract fingerprints from the touch measurement and can identify the user of the stylus. The MCU can transmit the user identification to the touch sensitive device. The touch sensitive device can then perform some action based on the identification. For example, the touch sensitive device can authenticate the user of the stylus and can accept stylus input if the user is authenticated and deny stylus input if the user is not. The touch sensitive device can also display or speak the authentication result to the user."
Sounds like a stylus version of Touch ID to us.
Mac trackpad input
Another one from a patent filing. Patently Apple has cleverly spotted what it believes to be a reference in a 2014 Apple patent filing to a stylus that can control the trackpad on a Mac. We've wondered for a while if the Apple Pencil will gain the ability to control iPhones and other iPads other than the Pro models, but the Mac range is a bigger leap than most of us expected.
The patent, for a 'Stylus With Inertial Sensor', includes drawings that show what appears to be a Mac and trackpad setup:
It seems unlikely that we'll see Apple Pencil compatibility on the Mac Magic Trackpad before we see it on the iPad mini, for example, but watch this space for further developments.