Early days with the Apple Pencil

2016-03-31 16.30.27

I’m not ashamed to say I spent an inordinate amount of my Saturday evening playing with a pencil. The new Apple Pencil, combined with my iPad Pro 9.7″. I know this word gets thrown around a lot when discussing Apple’s products, but it’s really ‘magical’.

In that I can’t understand how it works so well.

Getting started

I started with drawing shapes and scribbling meaningless notes in the Notes app. There is virtually no lag between moving the pencil across the screen and the ‘ink’ appearing behind it. It’s so smooth, I can write clearly and quickly and my own handwriting (such as it is) is clearly identifiable – and legible.

The angle at which you hold the pencil makes a difference to the resulting ink on screen. Just like a real pencil. Hold it directly up and you’ll write just like a pen. Hold it to the side and you and ‘shade in’, as if you were drawing. And of course, like all good pencils, you can erase what you’ve written.

What next

After getting to grips with how the pencil interacts with the screen and the app, I started looking for other apps where the pencil could be useful. I wanted to move beyond doodles and isolated scribbles. (I briefly wondered if I’d just bought the most expensive electronic post-it note in history!).

There comes a point when you realise the Apple Pencil is fantastic and then start asking yourself how you’ll practically use it – if you’re not an artist or professional creative. The Notes app is nice, but it’s definitely limited in terms of functionality. And in a sense, it’s the iPad equivalent of a hotter on your desktop, where you scribble phone numbers, quick reminders and anyt other disposable information you need.

What about the notes you want to keep? The notes you want to retain, organise, update and combine with other sources of information?

GoodNotes

A quick online search revealed GoodNotes And it is a revelation. Incredibly flexible, it allows you to writes notes on a variety of ‘paper types’ or notebooks, draw shapes, import images and text, amend existing PDFs and interface (import/export) with a wide range of useful apps and services.

For example, it can reach into my Dropbox account and import a PDF for me to mark-up and re-save. It can import photos from my library for some basic editing and manipulation. I can take a scribble and turn it into a perfect shape (circle, square etc.). You can zoom in and out, writing on a page size that suits you. You have a variety of writing/drawing options (e.g. Thickness of the ink, colour of the ink). You can also export as a PDF, making it super-easy to share your outputs with others who don’t use this app.

It’s just incredibly flexible. I’ve included an illustrative example below, containing a photo, some hand-writing and shapes. I created this just for this blog post, in about 10 seconds. This is really just scratching the surface of what this can do.

image

A practical replacement?

After some experimentation, I found that I could write on-screen with the pencil just as fast as I can with a ‘real’ pen on ‘real’ paper. With the additional bonus of being able to ‘undo’ any errors. I have to wonder, however, if some of the tapping on the screen that results from using a pencil on a screen isn’t a bit distracting. Most of my notes are taking during meetings and I wonder how others would respond to me using an iPad Pro in this way. I also wonder if I can reduce the volume and frequency of the tapping given enough time and practice. In fairness, it’s probably less distracting that someone typing loudly on a physical laptop keyboard.

It’s not a major issue, more of a practical consideration. As someone who takes a huge volume of notes on a daily basis, I’ll be seeing how much paper can be saved by using GoodNotes and the Apple Pencil. Practice required, that’s for sure.

Is this a complete replacement for pen and paper? Of course not, for me anyway. But GoodNotes makes the best of the iPad/Pencil combination in an easy-to-use and highly flexible way. I’d definitely recommend it, especially as the app costs just £5.99.

If you’ve recently found yourself with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, I can definitely recommend GoodNotes for creating and keeping content.

  1. Interesting comments! This is undoubtedly the biggest attraction of the new iPad. You didn’t mention Penultimate. Although it seemed to lose its way in recent versions, it still ought to be the obvious app to use for note taking as it links straight back to Evernote (they purchased Penultimate a couple of years ago). Did you try it before looking at other apps?

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    1. I used Penultimate a few versions ago, but found it a little clunky. As you say, it’s probably developed since and I’m sure using it with the Apple Pencil would be a very different experience. Will take a look at how it shapes up now.

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  2. RedEaredRabbit April 8, 2016 at 19:58

    I got the iPad Pro but not the pencil. Waiting to see some feedback on its use so this is definitely helpful. Might well give it a go now.

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    1. It’s honestly very impressive. Hopefully the next model will be smaller and lighter – it’s quite a bit bigger than an average pen. But it works like magic.

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