While it’s obviously not one of Apple’s flagship products, the Apple Pencil has become an important part of Apple’s iPad ecosystem, and with iPadOS 14 expected to add full natural handwriting recognition for Apple Pencil users, it’s going to become even more significant.
So far, Apple hasn’t done too much with the diminutive stylus; the only major revision it’s received so far has been the addition of wireless charging and some basic tap-based input controls in the second-generation Apple Pencil that was released two years ago alongside the redesigned 2018 iPad Pro. Meanwhile, however, Apple continues to sell the first-gen Apple Pencil, which charges over a Lightning connection, for the sake of its older iPad Pro and non-Pro iPad models, which of course don’t include the magnetic wireless charging connector.
Although you may wonder what else Apple could possible do with something like the Apple Pencil, there’s no doubt that the iPad maker is always thinking up cool new ideas for all of its products. A report earlier this year highlighted new patent applications by Apple suggesting that a future Apple Pencil could include even more touch-sensitive gestures and possibly even incorporate a camera.
The gesture support would go beyond the simple single- and double-tap of the current Apple Pencil, with suggesting that swipe gestures up and down the end of the pencil could be used to trigger other functions, and even possibly a “rolling” gesture that would track the user’s finger movements around the circumference of the stylus. New haptic feedback could also be added that could simulate the feeling of drawing on paper or other surfaces.
The patents also suggested the possibility of adding a camera to the tip of the Apple Pencil, which seemed pretty crazy at the time, but now another new patent application uncovered by Patently Apple sheds some light on exactly why a camera in the stylus could be a useful feature.
The patent application, titled Computer System With Color Sampling Stylus, describes an advanced color sensor system that would be incorporated into the Apple Pencil that could accurately pick up the color of a real-world object, and then transfer it directly to the drawing on an iPad or even a future iPhone.
The sensor may not be a camera, per se, but would include several photodetectors that could measure the light across different colour channels, and it would be capable of sensing colours not only from a direct drawing surface, but also from physical objects like flowers, likely without requiring direct contact.
The patent also suggests that possibility that a light source could be included to make it easier for the photodetectors to read the color accurately. Being a patent this is just an outline of various possibilities, so it’s also unclear where the sensor would be placed on the Apple Pencil, although some suggestions include adjacent to the tip, on the far end, or simply attached to one side.
As the patent describes, the sensed color could be added directly a pallette in a supported drawing program, allowing for the creation of photorealistic paintings, although it’s also not hard to see how a color sensor could find its way into other applications, such as color calibration or even picking out appropriate matching paint colors for home renovations.
While color sensors aren’t exactly new, adding one to the Apple Pencil would be significant since it would be more tightly integrated into the iPad experience, and would also provide users with a versatile tool that they may not otherwise be able to justify purchasing separately.
Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is just a patent, so it represents something Apple could do, not necessarily something it will do, but if the Apple Pencil is going to expand in any direction, this seems like a pretty useful place for it to go.