How the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil Have Changed My Writing Workflow

I became a freelancer back in 1996 to work as a French-English translator. I translated lots of documents, generally working with a printout of the original document on a stand next to my display, and typing my translation on my computer. After finishing draft translations, it was time to edit my documents. To do this, I would generally print them out, sit in a comfortable chair, and read through them making changes with a pencil. You quickly learn that there is a big difference between reading a document on the screen and on paper; when doing the latter, you see lots of mistakes that you gloss over on screen, and you think of different formulations. That process of composing and editing in different contexts allows you to see your work in a different way.

For many years, as a freelance writer, I mostly worked on screen. Occasionally, I would print out articles and edit them on paper, but I have reached a stage where I have enough experience to be able to do all my work on screen. However, that process of editing in a different context can make a difference in my work.

A few weeks ago, I bought a new 11-inch iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. My goal was to attempt to re-create this writing/editing process using the iPad for the second step. I have found that the combination of the iPad and Apple Pencil allows me to edit in a different context. These two devices together function as a sort of analog/digital hybrid; I get the advantages of working on a digital device and manipulating text more efficiently, together with the analog feel of the Apple Pencil, which I use to select and edit text. I had tried doing this in the past with the iPad’s touch interface, but text selection on iOS is so abysmal that it was too frustrating. The pencil, however, makes this process much smoother.

In addition, I have found that it is actually quite agreeable to control the iPad using the Apple Pencil. Not when I need to type a lot, but even when I do the New York Times crossword puzzle, working with the pencil is much more relaxing than using my fingers.

Everything You Can Do with the Apple Pencil

Steve Jobs famously said, about tablets, “If you need a stylus, you’ve already failed.” But he was talking about using a stylus as the main input device for a tablet. When Apple released the Apple Pencil three years ago, this quote was revived to remind people that a) things have changed, and b) Steve Jobs wasn’t always right.

Apple recently released a second version of the Apple Pencil. While this can be used as an input device, it is not required for the iPad Pro. In this article I’m going to tell you everything you can do with the new Apple Pencil.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Some Thoughts on the Apple Pencil

I got a 9.7″ iPad Pro yesterday; I hadn’t planned to upgrade, but it turned out that it was useful to hand down my iPad Air 2 to my partner, whose iPad 3 is showing signs of age. Naturally, since I bought the iPad Pro, I had to get the Pencil.

I’m intrigued by the idea of using a stylus to write on the iPad. I actually envisage using it to take notes and mark up PDFs. As such, I bought the $8 GoodNotes, on the recommendations of several friends who already have the gargantuan iPad Pro.

Now, I have to come clean: my handwriting is horrible. It always has been, no matter how much I was shamed when in grade school. Also, I rarely write by hand any more; it’s quicker for me to dictate into my iPhone or iPad, though I do keep a pad of paper and a pencil on my desk to take notes during the day. (And I’m a big fan of pencils, even though I don’t use them much…)

So the idea of writing on the iPad made me hesitant. Here’s an example:

Handwriting

I can read it just fine, so if I take notes and just want to read them, it’s no problem. However, I may also want to benefit from GoodNotes’ built in OCR capabilities. (You use the lasso tool to surround text, then tap the selected area, then tap Convert.) I’ve been around Apple products to have used a Newton a bit, back in the day, so I wasn’t expecting much. But to my surprise:

Recognition

This is just one example. In my testing yesterday, I found that GoodNotes’ OCR is about 98% accurate; and when it’s not accurate, it’s my fault for making letters that overlap. This is simply astounding.

As to the Pencil itself, I have a few gripes. It’s quite slippery. The plastic is very smooth, it’s hard to pick up off my desk, and it’s slippery to hold. I prefer the knurled grip area of a pencil like the rOtring 800 mechanical pencil, which I use daily to take notes. I’ll eventually put something on the Apple Pencil to make it easier to hold, such as a piece of tape, but Apple should have considered this. (Or they could have made it hexagonal, like real wooden pencils.)

Pencils

The Apple Pencil is also an inch or so too long. My guess is they calculated the size for artists who hold a pencil far from the tip when shading, but it’s much more than anyone needs if they’re only writing. And the Apple Pencil suffers from the problem most styluses have: a lack of resistance. It’s too smooth against the iPad Pro’s screen. The drag you feel when writing on paper actually helps you write better by slowing you down.

Aside from those caveats, the Apple Pencil feels good in the hand. It has the right heft, not too heavy, not too light. However, it’s missing one important feature. The lack of a clip means that if you put it onto a desk or table that is not perfectly flat, the Pencil will roll. People have already realized that they need to add a clip to the Pencil, and it’s a shame to have to do that.

I’m looking forward to using the Pencil more to take notes on my iPad; maybe if I write more, my handwriting will improve. I’m a big fan of analogue tools – including pencil and paper – but the OCR available in GoodNotes is nearly magical, and means that I can take a lot of notes and not have to type them into my Mac later.