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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

iPhone and Apple Pencil: Will they ever be friends?

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

This week on the Download podcast, both Michael Gartenberg and Florence Ion expressed their love of Samsung’s S Pen, a stylus (much like the Apple Pencil) that works not just with Samsung’s tablets, but also the large phones in the Galaxy Note series.

On the podcast, Gartenberg professed his hope that perhaps Apple would find a way to bring the Apple Pencil, or something like it, to a future model of the iPhone Plus or perhaps even the new rumored high-end iPhone.

It’s an interesting idea. It’s been a year and a half since Apple introduced the Pencil, exclusively for use with the iPad Pro. By all accounts it’s been a success, but the iPad sells in tiny numbers compared to the iPhone. To open even certain iPhone models to the Apple Pencil would give the Pencil a chance to impact many more people than it ever could as an iPad-only accessory.

There are roadblocks, of course. First is the size of the current Pencil, which is just enormous—the size of a new, fresh-out-of-the-box Ticonderoga. An iPhone-friendly pencil would need to be shorter. It also seems highly unlikely to me that Apple would include a slot into which you’d slide the pencil, like Samsung does on the Galaxy Note—but that doesn’t mean that cases and clever magnetic attachments couldn’t be offered, either by Apple or third parties.

Second is the size of the screen—this is one reason why Samsung doesn’t support the S Pen on the standard Galaxy phone. But on larger screens like the iPhone Plus, there’s probably enough room to make a quick sketch or jot down a note, like you’re writing something down in a Moleskine or Field Notes notebook.

Like AirPods, the Apple Pencil has the feel of a product that has been tightly engineered and is difficult to make—so it’s an open question if, after a couple of years, Apple might be able to make a variation that’s smaller and more pocketable for iPhone users.

Up until now I’ve been skeptical of the possibility of Apple opening up support for the Pencil (and smaller Pencil cousins) on the iPhone, but I’m warming up to it now—thanks not just to the attitudes of people like Gartenberg and Ion, but to one of the new features of iOS 11. In iOS 11, there’s a feature called Instant Notes that allows you to automatically switch into a note when you put the Apple Pencil onto the screen… even if the iPad is locked. This make the iPad infinitely more Pencil friendly than when it requires you to unlock the device and and launch an app before you can start writing.

Sometimes new iOS features are all they appear to be—and sometimes they’re more, suggesting future hardware directions that are not entirely visible. I’m not entirely convinced that Instant Notes is anything more than what it seems: a nice iPad feature that makes the Pencil easier to use. But if Apple were considering the addition of Pencil support to an upcoming iPhone model, this is just the sort of feature I’d expect to be prioritized.

It could lead to people pulling out their iPhones and pencils and jotting something down for later, no notebook required… or it could lead nowhere. It all depends on if Apple thinks larger iPhones could be enhanced by the Apple Pencil… or thinks that writing on the screen should remain the province of the iPad Pro.

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