On the surface, Apple's iPad Pro is exactly like every other iPad model—just larger. However, only iPad Pro supports the Apple Pencil stylus, which literally has the ability to transform how you use the tablet.
The Apple Pencil is a battery-powered, pen-shaped device that allows you to handwrite, draw, paint, sketch, and/or annotate text (and PDF files) directly on the iPad Pro's screen when you're using a compatible app. Communicating wirelessly with your tablet via Bluetooth, the Apple Pencil offers incredible accuracy with a variety of virtual writing, drawing, painting, and annotation tools.
For example, pressing harder with the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro's screen as you're writing or drawing, or simply tilting the stylus even slightly, makes your virtual writing or drawing instrument behave just like an actual writing or drawing instrument would. The results are authentic, accurate, and extremely precise.
The Mail and Notes apps in iOS 9 are already compatible with Apple Pencil when used on the iPad Pro. As you're reading an email message on the tablet's screen, you can write or draw directly on the message, save your annotations, and forward them to other people. Likewise, in addition to typing text into the Notes app, you can handwrite or draw, using this app just like a virtual notebook.
In fact, since the release of the Apple Pencil for iPad Pro, hundreds of third-party iPad apps have been updated to include support for this powerful accessory on the iPad Pro, and new apps are being released almost daily. These apps introduce new functionality that's never before been practical on any iPad tablet.
When used with such specialized apps, the Apple Pencil offers multiple capabilities. For example:
- Transforming the iPad Pro into a virtual notebook, allowing you to handwrite or draw sketches directly on the tablet's screen. These apps allow you to select a virtual writing instrument (pencil, ballpoint pen, felt-tip marker, fountain pen, and so on), choose a virtual ink color, and then use the Apple Pencil to write directly on the screen, just as you would write on a sheet of paper or in a paper-based notebook. The notes you create can be stored, viewed, edited, synced with other computers and mobile devices, and shared in a variety of popular file formats.
- Painting, drawing, or sketching on the tablet's screen using specialized art-related applications. The Apple Pencil can simulate a paintbrush or other drawing/painting tool, enabling you to create highly detailed drawings, illustrations, paintings, or sketches.
- Annotating and signing text-based documents. When you import a PDF file or text-based document into a specialized application, the Apple Pencil lets you sign letters or documents. You can handwrite annotations directly into such documents using a virtual ballpoint pen, highlight text using a virtual colored highlighter, and more.
- Filling in forms onscreen. Sometimes handwriting is faster and easier than typing.
- Editing digital photos. Work with the precision tools offered by a photo-editing app.
Getting Started Using the Apple Pencil
Your first step is purchasing the Apple Pencil accessory ($99.99) from any Apple Store, Apple's website, or an authorized Apple dealer. Though the Apple Pencil was released in November 2015 and early 2016, the device has been backordered, with a wait time of 3–6 weeks.
Once you get your hands on the Apple Pencil, you need to charge the device initially and then pair it with your iPad Pro. Charging the device is simple: Remove the Apple Pencil's cap to reveal the device's Lightning Connector, and plug it into the Lightning Port of your iPad Pro.
Another alternative is to use the supplied Apple Pencil Charging Adapter that comes with the Apple Pencil. Attach the white USB charging cable and power adapter that came with your iPad Pro, and plug the Apple Pencil into an external power source, such as an electrical outlet. A full charge will keep the Apple Pencil functioning for up to 12 hours of use, and even a 15-second charge keeps the stylus operational for about 30 minutes.
Next, you'll need to pair the stylus with your iPad Pro, in a process that takes less than 15 seconds:
- Remove the Apple Pencil's cap to reveal the Lightning Connector.
- Plug the Lightning Connector into the Lightning Port on the bottom of your iPad Pro.
- Turn on the Bluetooth feature of your iPad Pro. To do this, launch Settings, tap on the Bluetooth option, and then turn on the virtual switch associated with the Bluetooth option.
- Within a few seconds, a listing for the Apple Pencil will be displayed under the My Devices heading, and a connection between the tablet and stylus will be established. Once the word "Connected" appears to the right of the Apple Pencil listing, the stylus is ready to use with any compatible app.
Keep in mind that after you turn off the power of your iPad Pro altogether, or place the tablet into Airplane mode (which automatically turns off the tablet's Bluetooth feature), you will need to repeat the pairing process between the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.
Choosing an Apple Pencil–Compatible App
The Apple Pencil accessory only works with iPad apps running on the iPad Pro that are compatible with this accessory. To find these apps in the App Store, follow these steps:
- Make sure that your iPad Pro is connected to the Internet.
- From the iPad Pro's Home Screen, launch the App Store app.
- Look for a banner promoting apps specific to the iPad Pro. This banner might be displayed after you tap on the Featured icon at the bottom of the App Store screen. Tapping on the "Amazing Apps for iPad Pro" banner, for example (when it's available), reveals a collection of apps that are optimized for the iPad Pro. Many of these apps support the Apple Pencil.
- Alternatively, type Apple Pencil apps in the App Store's search field, and then tap on the Search key. The search results will list only apps that support the Apple Pencil accessory.
- Based on how you want to use Apple Pencil, choose one or more apps that offer the functionality you need.
- Download and install the app(s) you chose for your Apple Pencil. When you launch an app, the stylus will work automatically, so you can begin immediately using your Apple Pencil instead of your fingers to write or draw on the screen.
Recommended Apps That Support the Apple Pencil
New apps that support the Apple Pencil are being released almost every day. Following are a handful of recommended apps to help you get started, based on the types of activities you might want to perform with your Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro:
- Taking notes: If you want to handwrite, draw, or sketch within a virtual notebook app that's more robust than the Notes app preinstalled with iOS 9, consider GoodNotes 4, Penultimate, Noteshelf, Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, or Notability.
- Painting, drawing, or illustrating: To transform your tablet into a virtual blank canvas for creating or editing digital art, check out apps like Autodesk SketchBook, Procreate, Adobe Photoshop Sketch, FiftyThree Paper, Graphic - Illustration and Design, and Tayasui Sketches.
- 3D sketching and computer-aided design (CAD): Apps like AutoCAD 360 allow you to import and view or edit CAD files created on a PC or Mac. You can create files from scratch on the iPad Pro by using many of the precision tools in the app version of AutoCAD.
- Photo editing/enhancement: iPad Pro apps like Pixelmator, Adobe Photoshop Mix, and Adobe Photoshop Fix support the Apple Pencil, allowing you to utilize professional-level photo-editing tools easily and with extreme precision.
- Annotating and signing PDF documents: PDF Expert 5 and comparable apps import PDF files so you can sign or annotate them, or fill in forms. You can also import other types of content and then add drawings, handwriting, or annotations, before exporting the file into popular file formats that can then be shared or printed.
Other types of apps supporting the Apple Pencil also provide new ways to interact with the tablet. For example, Zen Brush 2 enables you to create onscreen artwork by simulating Eastern Asian ink brushes. This type of creative activity is believed to be highly relaxing, yet it doesn't require tremendous artistic skill.
The Pigment app offers a high-tech twist on paper-based coloring books for grownups, which have become hugely popular recently. The app provides hundreds of elaborate images and designs that you can color in by using eight different virtual writing instruments and a complete palette of color options. This fun app is sensitive to the pressure and tilt used when working with the Apple Pencil, so you can practice using this accessory in a relaxing and creative way—without needing any real artistic ability.
On its own, the iPad Pro offers several benefits over other iPad models. For example, you can use the Split Screen mode in iOS 9 to run two apps simultaneously onscreen, displaying the entire screen of both apps without having to zoom in/out or scroll around. When you watch video, such as TV shows or movies, the stereo sound from the tablet's four speakers is equivalent to that of a home theater. The optional Smart Keyboard accessory lets you touch-type with the speed and precision of using a notebook computer while you're on the go.
The big differentiator between the iPad Pro and other iPad models is compatibility with the Apple Pencil, which allows you to write, draw, sketch, paint, or annotate text with ease and precision. This accessory lets you use your tablet to create and edit content in ways never before practical. With just a little bit of practice, using the Apple Pencil will become second nature, like using an actual ballpoint pen, pencil, highlighter, felt-tip marker, or paintbrush.
The Apple Pencil's capabilities are dictated by the compatible apps you run on your iPad Pro, along with your own creativity. App developers are clearly excited about the potential of the Apple Pencil, constantly inventing new and innovative ways to support it. If you've already invested in an iPad Pro, you'll probably find the Apple Pencil to be an easy-to-use, convenient, and versatile tool.
Jason R. Rich (http://www.jasonrich.com) is the author of Que's iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, which covers how to use iOS 9 on all of the various iPhone and iPad models, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro. He is also the author of many other Que books, including My Digital Photography for Seniors, My GoPro Hero Camera, My Digital Entertainment for Seniors, and Apple Watch and iPhone Fitness Tips and Tricks. Follow Jason R. Rich on Twitter or Instagram at @JasonRich7.