Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Apple, don’t de-power the Pencil in iOS 9.3

Serenity Caldwell, writing at iMore about a major change in iOS 9.3 regarding the Apple Pencil that remains in the latest beta edition released this week:

Normally, I don’t write about beta bugs and features, because it’s a beta: There are always bugs, and features change. But this functionality is important enough that I wanted to talk about it before Apple submits its final 9.3 release. It could be a bug, yes: But several betas in, we’ve seen fixes for Smart Connector keyboards and new features, and the Pencil remains crippled. Which makes me think, more and more, that this is a conscious decision on the part of Apple’s engineering team. (I did reach out to the company about the issue, and will update if and when I receive a response.)

Serenity has built up the same rules about Apple betas as I have over the years: You generally don’t complain in public about things in them, not because of any legal restrictions but because beta software is unfinished. There’s no point in tearing any company a new one because their in-progress software has bugs or behaves weirdly. Wait for the final, and if it’s still buggy, then feel free to tear with abandon.

But as the iOS 9.3 betas progress, it is becoming troublesome that the removal of the (iOS 9.2) ability to use the Apple Pencil as a way to interact with the iPad’s interface has not been reversed. It’s starting to seem less like a bug and more like a policy decision—and a that’s a problem. I’ve heard from several Apple Pencil users (including CGP Grey, Myke Hurley, and Ren herself) that they have come to rely on using the Pencil not just as a drawing implement, but as a way to use the iPad Pro. I’ve also heard from people who say that the Apple Pencil can be an aid in accessibility and can ease RSI problems.

Update: I should link to the Cortex podcast, where CGP Grey and Myke Hurley have discussed this a bunch, including this verbatim quote from Grey where he indicates that this is absolutely not a bug:

I have had several independent, unrelated sources in the know confirm to me what was simply a fear last time, that removing the functionality of the Apple Pencil is a decision inside of Apple. It is not a bug that they have overlooked for three betas. It is a decision. And I, obviously, think it is an absolutely disastrous decision.

Having to put down your Apple Pencil in order to do anything else on the iPad screen is a feature regression. If Apple has a technical reason to discourage this kind of behavior, perhaps making the feature optional (and including an Accessibility setting to turn it back on) would be a nice compromise.

Update: In a statement to The Verge, Apple says the feature will return.

—Linked by Jason Snell

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