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
(Photoshop)
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.

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  • ddriver - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    So in your expert opinion, all programs do is syscalls? No application logic, no application data? LOL

    Also, API calls are NOT syscalls. Syscalls are requests to OS kernel, API calls are just regular calls to a library. Fundamentally different things.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    -- Fundamentally different things.

    exactly the same: your not writing active code, but calling out to somebody else's code to do the work. in neither case does it matter what you're source language is, from a performance point of view. there's a reason that java mostly beats C++ these days.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    The main reason for that is the "well, it's fast enough, and if not we'll compensate with CPU upgrades" mentality in many projects. Reply
  • gistya - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    Why are we talking about Java and C++ here? Just curious.

    I recently worked on Google's j2objc project and it's pretty freaking slick. You can translate Java code into Objective C that compiles and runs pretty flawlesly on an iOS device, and it's fast. It's not emulated, it's actually a port of Android's core libs right into Objective C. Amazing work.

    I started working with Swift recently and it's pretty cool itself. Apple's answer to C# and Java, basically. I like that they released it free and open source for Linux. It's weird to program in until you get used to the weird memory management stuff but, hey, code runs so much faster without garbage collection.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    Objective C is an atrocity. Moving away from it in favor of swift is one of the few moves apple can be commended for.

    Apple have taken advantage of native code, which has resulted in better user experience than android, even when their hardware was mediocre. Because native code is way better than java.
    Reply
  • Relic74 - Saturday, February 27, 2016 - link

    Developing apps that take advantage of the iPad Pro's hardware is just the tip of the iceberg. iOS needs a complete overhaul as in it's current state it's lacking just to many features to be considered anything approaching a Pro OS.

    The iPad Pro is my first iOS device, I've played with them over them years but I never really liked iOS, it just always felt extremely restrictive to me. When the Pro came out with iOS 9.2 I was intrigued and started to read up on it, the reviews were solid and everyone I talked to who owned one, really liked them. So I made the plunge and bought one for myself. Now I already have a tablet, the new Pixel C in which I really like, even though the reviews on that haven't been so super. The biggest complaint was that Android isn't really a productivity OS. I found it to be quite the opposite, it's an extremely capable machine. So when I read that the iPad Pro is pretty decent on productivity tasks, I thought well if they thought the Pixel C wasn't up for the task and it is, than the iPad Pro must be something special.

    It's not, every reason why I avoided iOS all of these years is still present in the latest version, every single one. As I use CodeEnvy, a cloud based IDE to do most of my programming, I assumed the iPad Pro would be able to handle to handle my work flow. It's nothing outrageous what I'm doing or expect, simply using the CodeEnvy app, Prompt 2 (a terminal app) and Chrome. I also needed Excel to calculate trade PNL's. Within the first hour of using the iPad Pro it was more than apparent that it just wasn't meant for productivity work or at least nothing on the level that I required and didn't come lose to the Pixel C's abilities.

    First, I needed to run the terminal app in the background, compiling apps can take a while, plus I run scripts and monitoring applications. However after 3 minutes iOS would terminate it's connections. After some research it seems only about 1% of the apps in the App Store can actually run in the background for extended periods of time, mostly GPS and music apps. Than their was the problem with app resolutions, more than 80% of them I had installed didn't support the iPad Pro's resolution. So again after some research it seems only about 10% of the apps available actually support it's resolution, these unsupported apps also use another keyboard, one that is extremely basic and missing many of the features of the systems default. Now, app developers are working on this problem but the real problem, which is that apps in iOS are resolution independent in the first place just isn't a good idea. However it seems that their is no other way to do it because of this so called Walled Garden Paradigm.

    Apps in iOS are basically islands and in some weird way are even like OS's themselves, they basically have to fend for themselves With little contact to actual system except through hacks, okay, API's but it sure sounds like a hack to me. So every time a new feature is added to iOS app developers have to manually update their code to support it. Which brings me to the next issue, dual app view, only about 120 apps or so support it, again, we have to wait for the app developers. Now I'm not saying Android is the better option for any of you, it's all about preferences but when I enabled the dual app view feature in Android 6.0, every app from that moment on supported it. Further, every app I have installed into my Pixel C supported it's resolutions. When I connect a monitor to it, everything is supported, resolution, aspect ratio, I can even change the DPI to make it look more like a proper desktop UI and it supports extending the desktop, not just mirroring. Since the Pixel C has a USB C, I'm using the same port-replicator I bought for my MacBook 12" which has, HDMI, SD Card reader, 2 USB 3, mini USB and Ethernet, connecting a display to the Pixel C couldn't be easier. When I connected my monitor to the iPad Pro it looked like complete crap, black bars, the DPI was so large it looked like a child's toy and it just supported mirroring which absolutely sucks because you can't have two monitors.

    File system or should I say lack of because except for iCloud, iOS doesn't have one, it depends on it's apps to manage them. This is absolutely ridiculous and frankly Apple should be ashamed of themselves for leaving it this way for the last 8 years. Dealing with files in iOS is a complete nightmare. Every time I grab a file from the cloud I end up creating at least 4 copies of the same files because when you send a file to an app, it sends a copy, leaving the original in the app your sharing from. So keeping track of which file is the latest version is impossible. Why am I sharing in the first place, on every single mobile device I've ever used, the sharing feature was used to send content to an online source, never was it used as a method to manage files, especially not as the primary method. Also I have yet to have seen an app that can Share to every compatible app installed, their always missing apps in the share list, why because unlike Android which creates it's Share lists dynamically on a system level, the app developers for iOS apps have to manually create a Share profile, which means apps can pick and choose which apps they want to support. When you install the DropBox client, every app that can create a file from that time on should be able to Share to it, period. Instead we have to wait for the app developers for everything in iOS. People say that Android is fragmented, fine but so is iOS, except in it's case, it's the apps that are fragmented. Anytime a new feature is added, every app should automatically be able to do it because the system manages it, not the apps.

    The keyboard, I first bought the Apple keyboard, however I really didn't like the way it felt to type on, I missed having the function keys and the biggest issue, no backlite, something I simply cannot live with out as I type at night in bed a lot. It also doesn't provide any protection so I had to buy the hard case, 200 bucks + for a mediocre keyboard. So I bought the Logitech, a much, much better typing experience however there is one problem that became hugely apparent while using it. I wanted a mouse, not every time, just when the keyboard was connected. Why, well like Tim Cook said about notebooks with touchscreen's being a failed idea mostly do to poor ergonomics, the user has to constantly reach up to navigate the UI (get's old real quick), the iPad Pro, ironically, falls under the same category. Foot in mouth next time Tim, I'm sure you didn't realize at the moment that you were also talking about the iPad Pro but it's the same exact thing.

    The Pencil, I'm not an artist so I can't really say if it's good or not. The one thing I do know is that I can't use it throughout the system. Something I desperately wanted to do, so in the drawer it went, instead I use a Wacom, has pressure sensitivity, palm rejection and writes great, no lag. In fact I can't tell the difference between the two when using apps like EverNote, Bamboo Paper, OneNote, etc. the iPad Pro is a finger print magnet, I just wanted a stylus to navigate the UI with, also without a mouse the Wacom is the closest thing I can get, works a lot better with it than without when using the keyboard, that's for sure. Is there an actual Apple device available without compromises, there is absolute zero excuse for not allowing the Pencil to function throughout the system. This idea that the iPad Pro is a touch device only completely fell apart the second Apple made the Pencil and keyboard, two accessories that break this touch only paradigm. The only reason why Apple is doing this is to save a little face from all these years of saying the stylus is garbage. This is also why I'm pissed that Pro doesn't have mouse support. The OS certainly supports it by the way, my brother has an iPad Air 2 which is JailBroken and he installed mouse drivers just fine, works great.

    There is potential here, however even with great apps the blatant problems in iOS prohibit it from ever becoming a proper productivity tool. Now I fully realize that there are plenty of people that get by just fine with using the iPad Pro, I'm just not one of them. The Pixel C is a much more capable machine for what I do, I have every app that I need which by the way are the same exact apps I had installed on the iPad Pro so I don't get this, no apps for Android tablets thing, I have over 60 apps, all of them look and perform great. In fact, they actually look better on the Pixel C because they all support it's resolution. I have a stylus, the same Wacom. I use for the iPad Pro. I have an actual file-manager with all of my files in a single area, organized by folders. I can access my firms secure NAS drive using Open ID, I have all of my cloud storage, other computers, external HD's and FTP servers mounted as local assets, so when I click on save, the file is saved directly on whichever remote storage I choose. None of that, click on Share BS. When I'm editing a file and need to use more than one app, each app uses the same exact file, no creation of multiple files from Sharing, just open, edit, save, go to other app, open, edit, save. I can find any file in less than a minute, I can find every file that contains a persons name inside of the files In less than a minute. I tried to do this in iOS, I just gave up, finding files in iOS is like trying to find Noah's Ark in Turkey. Zipping and sending files in iOS, well, just also sucks, hopefully the files your sending aren't located in more than 2 apps. I use the Pixel C as a desktop computer as it has mouse support and looks great when connect to a monitor with extending desktop capabilities. Since I can run Linux desktop applications and quickly mind you, it actually makes for a decent desktop machine, however I just purchased an Nvidia Shield TV, installed Arch Linux on it and am now using that as my desktop computer. The performance of the Pixel C was so good when running Linux apps that the Shield TV was a no brainier. Yes, there are GPU drivers for it, in fact my CUDA applications work great on it. I can encode a video file using the GPU to compute faster than most laptops using their CPU's.

    Write now I am compiling an app in the background, while downloading a 20GB .rar file to a connected HD, while streaming a movie directly from OneDrive without having to download it first, to my sons TV in his room, I have Gimp running on my monitor as I was editing a picture, (I'm running Arch Linux in a Chroot under Android, to use applications I just start them up through an X-Terminal, works great), while I'm typing this up in Chrome on the Pixel C itself. The iPad Pro doesn't come close to that level of multitasking, running two apps in a split screen view is a nice feature however I would give it up in heart beat to be able to run any and all apps in the background.

    I'll end it here, the iPad Pro is still just an iPad, it's not a laptop replacement, it's not a productivity machine, it's an iPad. A content consumption device, just with a larger display. Those wanting one, wait, at least until version 2 comes out. There are just tom any issues that need to be worked out and most importantly, no apps that really take advantage of it.
    Reply
  • boozed - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    MaxiPad, surely. Reply
  • definitelyReal - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    Lol Reply
  • xerandin - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    You win this comments section. Not really worth much, but it's better than the guys in here defending a product that has left most of everyone everywhere completely nonplussed. Reply
  • Constructor - Saturday, January 23, 2016 - link

    Ideologue, much?

    I've simply bought it because I wanted to use it, and I do. Every single day. And it is fantastic.

    If you're "nonplussed" by it, you're likely asking the wrong questions to begin with.
    Reply

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