In October last year, Apple announced that hover was being added to the Apple Pencil’s bag of tricks. What might sound like a minor update to non-artists is a major addition to the workflow. While digital drawing is more forgiving in terms of correcting mistakes than its real world counterpart, stopping and starting is still an extremely frustrating dimension that can ultimately hinder the creative process.
Hover adds the ability to preview lines before assigning them to a piece. Hovering a Pencil 2 up to 12 millimeters above the new iPad Pro (Apple notes it’s the M2 that enables this feature, hence the limited hardware options), the system provides stroke and stroke width and color previews , along with the ability to choose drawing tools in Markup.
“The pencil sends out signals that the iPad then interprets and figures out the location of the pencil tip in 3D and the angle at which it is held,” Leslie Ikemoto, Apple’s Director of Input Experience, tells AapkaDost.
Savage Interactive, which makes the Procreate iPadOS app for graphics editing and digital painting, seemed particularly optimistic when the product was released. “It really made a big impact in our design phase,” CEO James Cuda noted at the time. I imagine such things make a particularly big difference if your app is an iPad exclusive.
“iPad is first and foremost a touch first device. You hold this glass plate,” says Stephen Tonna, director of Platform Product Marketing. “If you add different accessories to it, a keyboard or a trackpad, it unlocks different possibilities. The pencil adds to the incredible experience. That’s another way to think about the Pencil and iPad.”
This morning, iPadOS 16.4 arrives with further refinements to the feature, in the form of Tilt and Azimuth. Tilt is basically what it sounds like. Azimuth is new to me (and, it turns out, our staff designer, Bryce). Given how badly I did in high school geometry, I’m going to do the most high school work I’ve ever done on AapkaDost and quote the Oxford Languages dictionary:
The direction of a celestial body from the observer, expressed as the angular distance from the north or south point of the horizon to the point at which a vertical circle passing through the object intersects the horizon.
Those tools are now open to developers who want to build on top of the existing Pencil functionality. “If you look at Procreate, they have the pencil brush, which is small and thin when you’re perpendicular to the screen, and gets wider when you tilt for shading,” says Ikemoto. “With Tilt and Azimuth, Procreate can render an exact outline of the mark you’re going to make when you put down your pencil brush, and that’s a huge accelerator for their users.”
The company got into the tablet stylus game about 7.5 years ago, announcing the first Pencil alongside the original iPad Pro. Meanwhile, the Pencil 2 arrived three years later along with the third-generation Pro, bringing wireless magnetic charging to the table. Of course, Apple isn’t commenting on roadmaps or the development of new and upcoming features. But along with the aforementioned studies, the company says updates are partially informed by user feedback. After all, artists are often a particular bunch, committed to specific workflows that have evolved over time.
“We always listen to customer feedback,” says Tonna. “An important part of building great products is taking that feedback and listening to what’s going on. And of course building things that our customers hadn’t even thought of. They see it, they love it, they move on. We listen.”
The features are made available to developers through various APIs. “We wanted hover to be as easy to customize as possible, so we used the existing APIs we used for the Magic Keyboard trackpad,” Ikemoto adds. “Those are UIPointerInteraction and UIHoverGestureRecognizer. For developers who have already used the UI pointer interaction in their app, they get the Apple Pencil pointer for free without doing anything. It will just work. Developers who want a more customized hovering experience can use the UI hover recognition, which we’ve extended to report the location of the pencil tip in 3D and also the angle at which the pencil is held.
Procreate is, of course, an early recipient of the new technology. “We’ve been looking forward to the Apple Pencil hover capability since the launch of Apple Pencil,” Procreate Chief Product Officer Claire d’Este said in a comment to AapkaDost.
However, the company tells AapkaDost that drawing and painting on the iPad isn’t a more popular pastime for the Pencil than handwriting. The hover function also works with several apps, including Notes and Safari. It has access to similar tool and preview features to the kind you’ll find in places like Procreate.
“You have this device that you can put on your table and take notes during a lecture, and then put it in a Magic Keyboard when you’re done,” says Tonna. “You can use the keyboard to write your thesis. […] You can take those handwritten notes and stick them right into your paper, turning them into typed text.
Working on a product line invariably involves a fair amount of dog food. For Pencil, that means making sure there are some amateur artists on the team, who actually use new additions to the line before rolling it out more widely to developers and users.
“Every October, the team participates in Inktober, where we draw or paint a different concept every day,” says Ikemoto. “Inktober is a big event in the artistic community. A word is published every day, such as ‘plant’, and everyone draws and paints a plant. It’s a great way to share that artwork with the whole team.”
The newly arrived iPadOS 16.4 also brings Safari web app push notifications for the home screen, 21 new emojis, and several bug fixes.