Apple surprised a lot of us by releasing two new iPads – the iPad Air 10.5 and the iPad mini – a few days ago. All the talk was about their configurations and their price points, which allowed them to slot nicely between the existing base iPad and the far more expensive iPad Pro models (which begin at a price that is almost two and a half times greater than the iPad). And of course, there has also been mention of the fact that the new iPads have support for Apple Pencil, albeit the first generation one. For most people, this made the new iPads better tools for learning and innovation – especially among schools, where, as we recently discovered, Apple’s tablet is playing a key role in digitizing education. Obviously, the iPad Pros are more powerful and get the newer Apple Pencil (and act as the most expensive wireless chargers in the world for it) but with the new iPads as well as the existing base model, using the Apple Pencil just got a whole lot more affordable and accessible.
Apple’s new iPad launch also made the Apple Pencil an integral part of the iPad ecosystem.
Yes, it is still not bundled with any iPad – you have to purchase it separately – but for the first time since the Apple Pencil was introduced, we now have five different iPad models supporting it, across five different display sizes ranging from 7.9 inches to 12.9 inches. All of which is a far cry from the time when the Apple Pencil was first introduced – as a very pricey add on to the elite iPad Pro range. It just would not work with any iPad that did not come with a Pro moniker. The result was that the Apple Pencil, while getting generally positive reviews, was seen as a tool for a few people, even in the iOS ecosystem – a tool that worked only on very high-end tablets. It also meant that app developers did not perhaps give it the sort of attention it merited. Yes, productivity apps (which would be likely to be used on the Pro range) did get Apple Pencil support, but by and large most other app developers tended to largely ignore it. It was an add on, and not an essential one.
Apple had hinted that it would be making the Apple Pencil a more mainstream product when it launched the iPad last year with Apple Pencil support, but even then, not too many were betting on it becoming a part of all new iPads and definitely not the mini or the Air. Many in fact saw Apple’s extending support for the Apple Pencil to the base iPad model as a means of offloading old Apple Pencil stock, as after all the new iPads would be coming with all-new Apple Pencils. And when Apple announced that the new Apple Pencil would not work with older iPads and even iPad Pros, there were many in the audience who nodded wisely – the whole idea of getting Apple Pencil support to the base iPad was simply to clear off older stock and well, also to get a foothold in the education sector in some markets. But that seemed to be about as far as things would go.
Apple’s new iPads have pretty much shattered that perception. Yes, there has been some mumbling about the new iPads do not support the new Apple Pencil and work only with the older one, but the core message is – you got an iPad, then you can go ahead and grab an Apple Pencil for it too. That definitely was not the case about a year ago. It also sends out a very strong message to iPad app developers – that they can now look to integrate Apple Pencil support and features in their apps and be accessible to more than just a tiny niche of users. The impact of this could be pretty big, and if you think we are stretching our imaginations here, then just consider the fact that Apple itself will be rolling out updates to its iWorks suite of apps with better support for Apple Pencil. We expect a number of other apps – productivity and otherwise – to follow suit (pun intended) in the coming days, which could make the Apple Pencil a far more integral part of the iPad eco-system, instead of being just a pricey add on for a few. While on the subject, NOW can we have native handwriting recognition on the iPad, please!
There will be some who will, of course, say that all this is contrary to the vision of a certain Steven Paul Jobs, who had famously poked fun at styluses (or should that be “styli”) at the launch of the first iPhone. The fact of the matter however is that Jobs had been referring to using the stylus with a phone (and phones in those days had really small displays – even the first iPhone which had a massive display by the standards of the day, had a 3.5 inch display), not with a device that had as large a display as the iPad. Would he have approved? We know not. And it is a debate in futility – the man himself sometimes did not know what he would do next.
What we do know is that the latest addition to the iPad lineup is not just the pair of iPad Air and iPad mini.
It is also the Apple Pencil.