It might be arguably the best stylus that money can buy (at USD 99, a fair bit of money, let it be said), but the Apple Pencil has had its limitations. And one of the most notable of these is the fact that it did not play well with Apple’s own office suite, Works (don’t ask how we resisted the temptation to say “it did not quite work with Works”). Well, Apple fixed that particular limitation at its education event, announcing that Works apps would hence support Apple Pencil. We have been using the Pencil with the Works app that we use the most, Pages, the word processing tool, on our iPad Pro, and well, our experience has been a bit of loving what’s there and missing what’s not.
First off, let’s get one thing clear – the Apple Pencil works very fluently with Pages. There are no menus to mess around with. Just tap anywhere on a document, and you will find your Apple Pencil working just fine with it. Right now, the options are limited to smart annotations and drawings, and both work very well indeed. The drawing tools are decent enough for someone to sketch in a document, and the interface is simple, in the best Apple tradition. Just long-press the Pencil anywhere in a document, and an empty box pops up for you to draw in. You get options to draw and color objects inside this box, and you can resize it as well. Of course, as in previous versions of pages, you can insert images from your gallery as well as from a selection of pictures preloaded in the app. A neat touch, however, is that you can use the Apple Pencil to sketch or make notes on these images too.
This brings us to perhaps the biggest strength of the Apple Pencil in Pages – what Apple terms Smart Annotations. If you are the kind of person that likes to scribble and make notes on documents, then this is your zone. You can scribble anywhere on a document, and the annotations are smart in the sense that they stay with the text to which they refer. So if you move the text to another place by hitting an enter or back key, the annotation goes with it – however, this is not the case if you copy and paste text to another part of the document. You can move the annotations, be they notes, sketches, or symbols, to any part of the document using the move feature, and of course, just as in drawing, you have a few colors and nibs to choose from. And, of course, given just how good the Apple Pencil is in terms of palm rejection and sensitivity, writing is an absolute pleasure.
It does sketching well and is a dab hand at writing, so what were we missing in the Pencil-flavoured avatar of Pages? Well, it is an old complaint we have had: the absence of handwriting recognition. The fact is that writing by hand on display on a document can, at times, lead to letters that are either too large or too indistinct. Having the option to convert your scribbles into text would have been handy. We would also have liked more editing muscle with the pencil – perhaps a way to delete text or highlight it by simply running the Pencil over it would have been nice. Yes, you can mark text by drawing lines on it or encircling it, but some of us have wobbly hands!
All said and done, Apple Pencil support for Pages is a step that is definitely in the right direction and takes the Pencil a little into editing territory (it is still more of an artist’s tool, that said). There will be those who will say that a lot of the Pencil features for Pages are available in MS Word for iOS, but then that worth comes with a price tag, while Pages is free. No, we will not say that the Pencil supporting Pages is an editor’s dream – we still think the keyboard is a more worthy companion to the writer’s iPad Pro than the Apple Pencil. But a Page has been turned. Pun intended.
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