How do you follow the Apple Pencil, arguably the best stylus in the world right now? We can't wait to find out. In this article we examine the latest leaks and rumours and discuss the Apple Pencil 2's likely release date, tech specs, new features, design changes and pricing.
When will the Apple Pencil 2 be released?
In an investor note seen by AppleInsider, Rosenblatt Securities analyst Jun Zhang predicted that a new Apple Pencil will be unveiled in autumn 2018, alongside a lower-price version of the HomePod. The analyst did not cite a source for this prediction, however - not even the usual "anonymous sources within the supply chain".
Kuo's note also mentions Apple Pencil support for future iPhones. He believes the likelihood of such a feature "may increase with future iPhone screen size being enlarged," but he does not believe the 2018 iPhone models will support Apple Pencil.
Apple held an education-focused event on 27 March, and the calligraphic theme of the invitation graphic made us think the company has something to tell us about its stylus. We were right about that, but the news was that Apple Pencil support has been extended to the new (non-Pro) iPad, rather than the launch of a new Pencil.
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.
Apple Pencil 2 new features
What new features can we expect from the new stylus? Let's look at the possibilities.
Ability to work on non-touch-sensitive surfaces
This is by far the most exciting rumour we've heard, and the best thing is that it's backed by patent activity.
Patently Apple has spotted references to styluses being used on any metal surface (such as "the sides and/or back surface of an electronic device"), which is intriguing enough; but Apple's ambitions could go further still and extend to any non-touch-sensitive surface, such as a desk. You would scribble away with the Apple Pencil and its movements would be transmitted to an iMac or similar machine sitting nearby.
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.