Apple Pencil

At this point it probably goes without saying that Apple Pencil has been one of the major points of focus for this tablet. With the iPad Air 2, I noted that a proper stylus and keyboard would go a long way towards making the iPad more productivity focused. It turns out that Apple’s solution to the stylus part of the equation is a custom design that they call the Apple Pencil.

As best as I can tell, this stylus is at least somewhat capacitive-based. If Apple’s marketing material is accurate, it mentions a change from the 120 Hz sampling rate of the capacitive touch screen in normal use to 240 Hz when the stylus is detected. In addition to simple touch, the stylus measures pressure, azimuth, and altitude. When discussing azimuth, we’re basically looking at the angle that the stylus makes with the plane of the display, while altitude is the angle that the stylus makes relative to the normal of the display.

Charging the stylus is pretty simple. Included in the box is a female to female Lightning connector, so you can use a Lightning to USB cable to charge the stylus with either an AC adapter or a powered USB port. Of course, there’s also the case where you’re trying to charge the device on the go, in which case the stylus can be charged directly from either the iPad Pro or an iPhone. A lot of people have pointed out that this is a rather inelegant method of dealing with charging on the go, but given that the primary method of charging is through a Lightning connector I don’t really see any other solution to this problem, especially without compromising the ergonomics that come with the current design. Charging the stylus happens quickly enough that I never felt that it was a limiting factor in usage.

Apple Pencil itself is a comfortable instrument to write with. Unlike most styluses on the market designed to fit in a tablet or smartphone the body has a sufficiently large diameter that gripping it isn’t difficult for extended periods of time. The pencil also has an uneven weight distribution, which means that it won’t roll off of tables, though not so uneven that it's noticeable in the hand. The one problem worth noting here is that Apple Pencil is glossy plastic. After extended use I noticed that finger oil and lint had a tendency to produce an uncomfortable sensation. A matte soft touch texture may make more sense here, but that would introduce additional issues with the finish wearing off with extended use.

Credits to Nina Ling and Cory Ye respectively

Of course, the important part here is writing with the stylus. Although I’ve already discussed the application of note taking in class before, in the time since my initial remarks on the iPad Pro I decided to do an entire project report on Apple Pencil in order to get a better feel for the stylus and its usability. This was done for a digital logic project in which we were required to draw out finite state machine diagrams, truth tables, block diagrams, and other portions of the design. I would estimate that over the course of this project, I spent at least 4 hours a day using the iPad Pro for 2-3 days.

One of the most immediate observations I had was that in some ways, the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is far and away superior to pencil and paper. Even using the rather spartan Notes app this became clear. There were multiple cases throughout this project where a change that would have been difficult to make with pencil and paper was relatively simple to do so with Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro. For example, in cases where extra precision was needed it was possible to zoom in to erase a portion of text precisely. When an erasure was done poorly or on accident, reverting it was trivial as well. The project report, which eventually spanned 16 pages in length was synced to iCloud and was accessible from laptops and smartphones, which meant that it would be difficult, if not impossible to lose accidentally. It’s also noticeably more convenient to carry around an iPad Pro rather than a folder filled with paper. Along the same train of thought, drawing long truth tables with the straightedge function of the Notes app is much easier than carrying around a ruler everywhere. It was also great to have the project requirements and the notes application open side by side, which meant that there wasn’t a need to print out the project spec.

One notable problem that I did encounter with the Notes app is when the work I was doing spanned more than one page/sketch. An example of this would be cases where I would have to construct a state table based upon a state diagram that was sketched based upon the project requirements. If the state diagram was on a separate page, then I would simply have to switch back and forth between the two sketches or save the relevant sketch as an image to view in the gallery application, which felt a bit clunky.

The other issue, as it turns out, was getting the sketches off of the iPad Pro onto my laptop once I was ready to turn my work in. On the plus side, because all of my sketches were already digitized there was no need to locate a scanner and generate images or PDFs. However, the Notes app felt noticeably constrained in terms of export options. For example, there was no way of turning the 16 sketches I had drawn into a PDF on the device. I also discovered that as of iOS 9.2 attempting to save all sketches as images was broken as only 5 of the 16 sketches were saved to the gallery. Exporting the sketches by attaching them to an email was also unacceptable as the email export resolution was nowhere near native resolution. In the end, in order to get all of the sketches I had made off of the iPad in full resolution I had to manually select each sketch and save it to the gallery, before uploading all of the images to Dropbox. From my laptop, I could then put all of the images together into a PDF or some other acceptable format for submission.

However, despite these issues I found that the iPad Pro was remarkable for doing what very few tablets have really succeeded at. The iPad Pro actually feels comparable to pencil and paper to the extent that I never once felt like I wanted to go back to pencil and paper while doing the final project. Both the display and the stylus have sufficient resolution to the extent that precise work is easily achieved. The feel of the stylus feels like a good pen or pencil, without odd weight distribution problems.

Latency is also exceptionally low compared to most consumer solutions. Out of curiosity, I borrowed a Wacom Cintiq connected to a Macbook Air with an Intel i5 4250U CPU (Haswell 1.3/2.6 GHz) to do a basic latency comparison. Using Adobe Photoshop on the Wacom Cintiq and Adobe Photoshop Sketch on the iPad Pro and a high speed camera, I attempted to characterize latency by using a simple pen tool (3 px, full flow) by measuring the delta in time from when the pen was at a specific point and when inking reached the same point.

Stylus Latency - iPad Pro vs. Wacom Cintiq
  iPad Pro
(Photoshop Sketch)
Wacom Cintiq
Latency 49ms +/- 4ms
(3 frames)
116ms +/- 4ms
(7 frames)

After a few trials I measured an approximate latency for the iPad Pro of roughly 49ms or 3 frames of delay, while the Wacom Cintiq in this configuration had roughly 116ms or ~7 frames of delay. It’s worth mentioning here that the camera I used was recording at 240 FPS, so these figures could be off by around 4ms even before accounting for human error. Although the Cintiq 22 HD does have higher latency, I wouldn’t put too much into this as it’s likely that a more powerful computer driving the display would narrow, if not eliminate the gap entirely.

For reference, I estimated the Surface Pro 3 to have about 87 ms or 5-6 frames of delay, and the Surface Book to have about 69 ms or around 4 frames of delay. However, in the case of the Surface devices I was using Fresh Paint, which is a drawing application that isn't exactly comparable to Photoshop but is sufficient for comparison purposes. To give an idea for how much the application has an effect on latency, the Apple Notes app has roughly 38 ms or around 2 frames of latency from when the stylus tip passes over one point to when the inking reaches the same point.

While not strictly hardware, the software equation is really a critical part here as there are actual applications for the Apple Pencil which make it possible to use right now. An example of this would be OneNote, uMake, and Adobe Comp CC/Photoshop Sketch. Some of these applications work shockingly well like Photoshop Sketch, while something like OneNote feels relatively sparse by comparison as pretty much the only thing you can do with the stylus is draw simple lines with pressure sensitive thickness, with some automatic conversion of drawings to basic geometric shapes. With the right software, I can easily see the iPad Pro completely displacing traditional note-taking in light of obvious advantages that would come with OCR and digitizing notes for easy search.

Display Smart Keyboard


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  • xerandin - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    In what way did Microsoft saw Surface Pro parts off of other products? You know what's better than that "most stable, secure, and highest quality mobile OS?" For most people, that would be Microsoft Windows--even if they love to complain about it, you can't deny Microsoft's ubiquity in the Professional space (and home userspace, too, but we're trying to keep this in the professional sector, right?)

    I've heard a few people at work say that the sysadmins love Macs (it was a Director obsessed with his Macbook telling me this), but I can't seem to find any of these supposed Mac-lovers. It could have something to do that they're a nightmare to administer for most sysadmins running a domain (which covers the vast majority of sysadmins), or the fact that Mac users tend to be just as inept and incapable as Windows users, so you get to have another pain-in-the-ass group of users to deal with on a system that just isn't very nice to administer.

    If you take off your hipster glasses for a moment and actually use computers in the world we live in, there's no way around the reality that Microsoft wins in the Professional space--including their beautifully made, super-powerful Surface Pro.

    And no, I'm not a Microsoft shill, I just can't stand Apple fanboys with more money than sense.
  • gistya - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    Xerandin, you have no idea what you are talking about. 90% of the professional software development studios I work with are almost solely Mac based, for the simple reason that they barely need an IT department at all, in that case.

    Windows is technical debt, plain and simple. It's legacy cruft stuck to the face of the world. The only IT guys that hate Macs are the idiot ones who don't know bash from tsch and couldn't sudo themselves out of a wet paper box. Then there are the smart ones who know that a shift to such a low maintenance platform would mean their department would get downsized.

    But so many companies are stuck on crap like SAP, NovellNetware, etc., that Microsoft could literally do nothing right for 10 years and still be a powerhouse. Oh wait.

    Apple hardware is worth every extra cent it costs, and then some; if you make such little money that $500 more on a tool that you'll professionally use 8-12 hours a day for three years is a deal-breaker, then I feel very sorry for you.

    But personally I think it's more than worth it to have the (by far) best screen, trackpad, keyboard, case, input drivers, and selection of operating systems. I have five different OS's installed right now including three different versions of windows (the good one, and then the most recent one, and the one that my last job still uses, which does not receive security patches and gets infected with viruses after being on a website for 10 seconds).

    As for the iPad Pro, all of you fools just don't understand what it is, or why the pencil is always sold out everywhere, or what the difference is. As a software developer I can tell you that there is the most extreme difference; and that more development for iOS is being done now than ever before, and is being done at an accelerating pace. This is just version 1.0 of the large-size, pro type model for Apple, and those of us who did not buy it yet and who are still waiting for that killer app, are basically saying that well, once that app comes out, then heck yes we'll buy it. Do you seriously believe that no company will rise up to capitalize on that obviously large market? Someone will, and frankly lets hope it's not Adobe.

    I regularly see iPad pros now in the hands of the professional musicians and producers I work with, and they are most certainly using them for professional applications. That's a niche to be sure, but everyone who thinks that the surface pro 4 (a mildly crappy laptop with a touchscreen that makes a bad, thick tablet and an underpowered, overheated laptop) is even remotely in the same category of device, is utterly smoking crack.
  • doggface - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    I think it might be you smoking the crack there mate. Cor, what a rant. Microsoft are pretty safe in enterprise and it has everything to do with managing large networks(1000s not 10s of computers.. Please, direct me to Apple's answer to sccm, please show me Apple's answer to exchange. Please show me an Apple only environment running 1000 different apps outside ofGoogle and Apple HQ. Just aint haopening. Reply
  • Constructor - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    IBM (yes, the IBM!) has just announced that they will switch over to Macs a while ago. And they're neither the first nor the last. Springer (a major german media company) had done that a while ago already for similar reasons (removing unproductive friction and cutting the actual cost of ownership due to less needed user support).

    I know that many people had imagined that Windows would be the only platform anyone would ever need to know, but that has always just been an illusion.
  • damianrobertjones - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    Link to the article please! They're THINKING of using Apple for mobile use... . Reply
  • Constructor - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    Nope. They're massively ramping up Mac purchases as well, with a target of 50-75% Macs at IBM. They are already full steam ahead with it:
    (Okay: The official announcements don't have that aspect, but an internal video interview with IBM's CIO leaked to YouTube makes it rather explicit even so.)

    One of the motivators is apparently that despite higher sticker prices the total cost of ownership is lower for Macs (which is not news any more, but having IBM arriving at that conclusion still says something).
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Gartner said in 1999 that Macs were substantially cheaper in TCO. Reply
  • mcrispin - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    doggface, you speak with confidence where that confidence isn't deserved. I've managed deployments of OS X way over 10k, there are plenty of places with deployments this high. JAMF Casper Suite is the "SCCM of Apple", I don't need an "Apple" replacement for Exchange, 0365 and Google are just fine for email. There are plenty of non-Apple/Google Apps for OS X and iOS. You are seriously misinformed about the reality of the OS X marketplace. Shame that. Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    mcrispin...sure you can find individual shops that have done big MAC deployments. but its anecdotal evidence. Its like looking at one neigborhood in my city and from that conclude that trailer parks are the norm in my city of 15,000.

    Take a look at this Oct 2015 article on Mac market share (I'm assuming you dont consider Apple Insider to be a bunch of Microsoft shills?)

    While touting how Mac is gaining market share they show a chart where in Q32015 they were at 7.6%. The chart is by company and even smaller Windows PC vendors Asus and Acer are at 7.1 and 7.4 respectively. Throw in Lenovo, HP and Dell at 20.3%, 18.5%, 13.8% and the 25.3% "others" (and others are not MAC's because Apple is the only company with those).

    So IBM is doing 50 - 75% Mac's? OK Ill take your word for that but so what? In the larger scheme of things Apple still has only 7.6% and selling some computers to IBM isn't going to siginificantly change that number. Also, don't forgot that some companies (that compete with Microsoft in various areas) will not use a Microsoft product no mater how good it was.

    No matter how you look at it, Windows is the main stream OS for busineses world wide. Touting the exceptions to that doesn't cange the truth of it.
  • Constructor - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Of course most workplace computers now are PCs. The thing is just that Macs are making major inroads there as well.

    $25 billion in Apple's corporate sales are already very far removed from your theory (and that's even without all the smaller shops who are buing retail!).

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