Developers are trying to teach Apple Pencil new tricks

Susie Ochs
25 November, 2015
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File this under Neat Hacks I’ll Never Do: Developer Hamza Sood tweeted a short video showing the Apple Pencil being used to ‘peek’ and ‘pop’ a note in the Notes app, a 3D Touch gesture that’s only officially supported on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

As explained by 9to5Mac, Sood jailbroke the iPad Pro to hook iOS to interpret pressure data from the sensors in the Apple Pencil as pressure data for the 3D Touch feature, that normally comes from your fingers pressing on the iPad screen.

This hack requires the Pencil, since the sensors for measuring how much pressure you’re using are in the device’s tip, not in the iPad Pro screen. (On the iPhone 6s, you press the screen harder, which makes the glass cover flex a smidgen more, and new capacitor plates at the back of the display measure the distance to that flexed glass to know how hard you’re pressing.) The details of the hack are on GitHub if you’re interested in learning a little more about how it works.

So far the Apple Pencil’s pressure sensitivity is used mainly for drawing and writing, letting you easily get darker, thicker marks just by pressing harder. This hack shows that the Pencil could someday do more – even if, on its face, it does seem silly to grab a Pencil just to peek into something with 3D Touch, versus just opening it with a finger-tap.

Sood isn’t the only one thinking about this, either – on Monday Engadget reported on three experimental Swift apps made by developer Simon Gladman that use the Pencil in totally different ways too. PencilSynth is a AudioKit-powered synthesiser that lets you manipulate sound by moving the Pencil around the screen and changing its angle. PencilController is an image editor that lets you manipulate hue/saturation, brightness/contrast and gamma/exposure by rotating the Pencil around a pivot point. The final experiment, PencilScale, is a homemade harness that lets Gladman attach weights to his Pencil and see the total weight reflected on the screen.

iOS devices are such great multi-taskers, and it seems like only a matter of time before the Apple Pencil becomes more than a writing implement. Well, once Apple gets them in the hands of the right people, anyway.

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