BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

Today Apple announced an update to the Apple Pencil—the first in nearly six years. The Apple Pencil Pro (available for $129 today) is cool, and artists will love its updated features. But it fails to fulfill the eternally elusive iPad promise of become a truly satisfying drawing and painting simulator.

The new Pencil comes with a handful of great new tricks. You can now double tap near the tip to trigger actions without even touching the screen. You can also squeeze the front part of the pen to access contextual menus that give instant access tools and shortcuts (something that Wacom tablets have allowed you to do for years). And the haptic feedback vibrates to give you a tactile clue when you change from, say, pencil to marker to selection lasso. It can even, according to ProCreate’s CEO James Cuda, help you feel when objects align with other objects; a tactile snap if you will.

Developers could also use something that Apple calls Barrel Roll, which is basically a gyroscope that registers how you roll the pencil in its Z-axis to do things like changing the color of your brush or trigger whatever other effect. I would imagine that a 3D app could allow you to control stuff in all three axis now using this gyro sensor, which adds to the Pencil 2’s tilt and pressure sensitivity.


Admittedly, these neat features do little to change the way that most professional artists already do their work. The Pencil Pro just puts the iPad Pro almost on par with a professional drawing tablet like those made by Wacom. Even still, witout having tried it, I can image that using the new Pencil and iPad for illustration, photo work, or even writing will still feel too slippery, too unreal, too it-just-doesn’t feel right.

I say that with love. I’ve been buying Apple tablets since the original iPad came out. I love it, and I’ve loved all the iPads that came after. I even changed to work on iPad exclusively (spoiler: I came back to MacBook Air world with the M1). To me, the introduction of the pencil as an input device quickly became the iPad’s main advantage against a MacBook—the only true factor that made it unique.

More importantly, it promised something much bigger: the idea of having a true physical media replacement, which is something that Apple described in this patent from 2019. After all the rumors, I hoped we’d see something like that today. I thought that the new Pencil Pro was going to bring me a magical physical media simulator in which the haptic feedback made it feel like real paper, but alas, that didn’t happen.

Maybe this is a clear case of mismanaged expectations, but it’s been years already and the iPad is barely better than half a MacBook with a touchscreen. It’s great for reading (especially comic books), the web, writing (with the optional keyboard), and watching the occasional movie, sure. Good to draw on the go and do some insanely detailed illustration work, yes. But it is neither a great creative tool nor a great note-taking device. Something like the Remarkable 2 feels a lot more like the real thing thanks to its e-ink display and the nature of its screen, albeit way more limited than the iPad for sure.

To be fair, Wacom tablets also suffer from the same slippery-even-when-dry problem, but it’s proof that all pencil/tablet combos are suffering from the same ailment: They are simply not as satisfying as creating with real media. Here I was, just really wishing that Apple would surpass the best of the professional creative media peripherals with something that felt real. It didn’t happen with the Pencil Pro. Shattered dreams, broken hearts, and all that. But at least it has some nice details.