Apple’s scribbling stick for iPhone would be a boon for artists and document editors, but it’s not going to happen
When the subject of a stylus and iPhone comes up, people inevitably turn to what Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had to say. He wasn’t a stylus fan. During the launch of the first iPhone, he said: “Who wants a stylus? […] Nobody wants a stylus.” Years later, during an iPhone OS 4 event, he remarked: “It’s like we said on the iPad: if you see a stylus, they blew it.”
But using thinking from over a decade ago as justification for what’s happening today does Jobs and Apple a disservice. Technology evolves. People’s needs change. Apple was right to not include a stylus with the original iPhone. It was a revolutionary multitouch device. The company wanted you to explore it with your own digits, not poke it with a digital pen.
However, Apple was also right in later providing people with a tool for precision input on the iPad. By then screen technology had progressed to the point a meaningful stylus with fine-grained pressure sensitivity was viable. Moreover, the needs of enough iPad users had shifted; more of them required a tool for tasks like quickly marking up documents and making accurate marks in art and design tools.
We’ve since had a second generation of Apple Pencil, which is more tightly integrated with iPad than the first. Now, it snaps to the edge of a compatible tablet, instantly pairing and charging. It feels part of the device, rather than a mere add-on.
Why we need Apple Pencil for iPhone
Naturally, use cases are different on iPad and iPhone. The former’s larger screen lends itself to painting apps, technical drawing, flow charts, and PDFs, whereas the iPhone remains more consumption-oriented. That said, iPhone screens have got bigger and apps for the device have become more ambitious. This has led to more and more people clamouring for an Apple Pencil that works with Apple’s most famous device.
It’s hard to see a time where most people’s primary interaction method with iPhone wouldn’t be based around fingers. And even the biggest iPhone display is roughly half the size of that on the iPad mini – currently the smallest Pencil-compatible device. Even so, people have for years used iPhones for digital art. And plenty of business types use iPhone to edit documents while on the go.
An optional Apple Pencil would provide scope for new kinds of interactions. It would afford users more precision – useful on a device where fingers are likely to get in the way and obscure screen content. And there would be the potential in art apps for all the good things you see on iPad, such as tilt and pressure sensitivity, imperceptible lag, and swift tool switching.
Why we won’t get Apple Pencil for iPhone
So why will we not get an Apple Pencil for iPhone, given that there’s a market? Oddly, a 2022 rumour provides insight. The claim was Apple had originally planned to unveil an Apple Pencil for iPhone at its September 2022 event. However, this wouldn’t have been the same Apple Pencil you might use with an iPad today. Instead, the cheaper $49 device would have had no battery and lacked pressure sensitivity. In other words, it would have been an Apple take on existing iPhone styluses, which are basic fare.
That rumour (and its source) have rightly been described as sketchy. But when you consider the details, you understand issues Apple would face in bringing Apple Pencil to iPhone. To cater for a niche audience, the company would either need to provide an accessory that’s measurably inferior to what exists for iPad, or new iPhone screen technology, which would further bump up the price of an already expensive device.
Beyond that, there are other issues that would give Apple pause. It’s hard to see how the existing second-generation Apple Pencil could snap to an iPhone, and so it would be a ‘loose’ accessory that’s harder to charge and easier to lose. And its very existence would erode differentiation between Apple devices. Right now, iPhone and iPad are distinct in key ways. If you want that larger canvas and precise, pressure-sensitive pointer input, you buy an iPad.
So as much as we’d like to see Apple Pencil for iPhone in the abstract, it’s something Apple is unlikely to make a reality any time soon.