Apple's next iPad won't be pressure-sensitive, but your next stylus might be

While the past few years' crop of iPad styluses have done much to alleviate my irks with straight sketching, I still yearn for pressure sensitivity on my tablet.

As our resident stylus reviewer and off-hours cartoonist, I doodle on my iPad a lot. More than I really ever expected to, really: Having used a Wacom since high school, I hated the idea of drawing digitally without pressure sensitivity. While the past few years’ crop of iPad styluses have done much to alleviate my irks with straight sketching, I still yearn for pressure sensitivity on my tablet.

The iPad has a lot of things going for it: It’s portable. The screen is gorgeous. (And, if rumors of the next iPad sporting a Retina display prove accurate, it will become even more so.) You can directly interact with the canvas in a way that you haven’t really been able to on a Wacom tablet. And it’s easy to sync a sketch to your production machine for coloring and polish.

But there are roadblocks. If Apple wanted to implement pressure recognition into the screen, the company would have to license Wacom’s electromagnetic resonance technology—or design an entirely new system in concert with its current Multi-Touch interface. It’d be pricey, and I doubt the number of artists willing to purchase the product—even if placed on a higher “iPad HD” tier—would offset costs in that area.

Without direct support from Apple, the task falls to third-party app developers and manufacturers. Because pressure sensitivity isn’t integrated systemwide, in order to properly offer a solution, you need support from both the developer and every third-party app you want the technology to work with. (This is why, on your Mac, a Wacom tablet requires a driver to work properly; otherwise, it just behaves like a regular non-sensitive pointer.)

In 2010, Ten One Design showed off a software-only solution—a proof of concept that used private APIs for touch events (how your finger or stylus interacts with the screen) to create rudimentary pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. Those APIs, bundled into a developer’s kit, could have theoretically been integrated with other apps; unfortunately, private frameworks are forbidden on the App Store, and Apple showed no interest in opening up those APIs for developer use.

Thanks to a few enterprising third-party hardware manufacturers, however, 2012 may be the year we finally get to experience pressure-sensitivity. Bluetooth 4.0—support for which is already present in Apple's iPhone 4S and recently released Macs—allows a device like a stylus to connect to your iPad using an extremely low-energy connection; theoretically, this could offer you 24 hours of active sketching time with your stylus before needing to charge it.

As the iPhone 4S already sports Bluetooth 4.0, it’s likely that the next iPad will see the same improvements. Even if Wednesday's event showcases such an iPad, however, manufacturers have to add support for pressure sensitivity. To do so, the pen needs to transmit certain data (like pen angle and pressure from your hand to the nib) from the stylus via Bluetooth to your iPad; from there, software within an app must recognize that data and translate it accordingly.

Two developers have created prototypes of such a pen already, though neither are ready for sale just yet: Adonit, with the Jot Touch, and Ten One Design, with its code-named Blue Tiger stylus. To help third-party app developers translate the data coming from their respective styluses, each company has an SDK (software development kit) available.

There are other developers attempting non-Bluetooth solutions: Developer Jon Atherton recently raised funds on Kickstarter for a stylus that transmits the pen’s movements as high-frequency sound to the iPad’s microphone, while Cregle is working on a pen that transmits information through the iPad’s dock connector dongle.

The third-party solution is not perfect: In order for these styluses to work in the first place, developers still have to incorporate a separate SDK for each pen into their apps, which can be time-consuming. We also have yet to see a product actually come to market; I did have a few chances to play around with the Jot Touch, which I was impressed by, but no time to work it through in detail.

Until Apple decides that pressure sensitivity is worth the time and effort to incorporate at a system level, however, the third-party solution is all we’re going to get. The company could make it easier for manufacturers in the future—it could work with them to build some sort of systemwide plugin, similar to the access that Twitter currently enjoys, for example. But I can’t see that happening until the pens make their official debut and artists start embracing them over other pressure-sensitive solutions. (I know friends of mine who own ultraportable PCs against their will because they incorporate Wacom’s technology.)

But that old line about consumption versus creation becomes ever-harder to defend when your iPad inches ever closer to becoming a miniature Cintiq.

[Serenity Caldwell is a staff editor for Macworld. Knowing Apple won’t make the next iPad pressure-sensitive doesn’t stop her from crossing her fingers over it anyway.]

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Serenity Caldwell

Macworld.com
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?