How Does Apple Pencil Work? Simple Guide [2023]

The Apple Pencil may be one of the must-own accessories for your iPad; easy to use, and good in the hand! And like most things nice, the Apple Pencil has a lot going in it that makes it so desirable.

I have been a keen user of the Apple Pencil since its inception in 2015. And though the compatibility may be limited, it still is one of the best pairings for my iPad Pro.

And gradually, in time, I grew curious about how it actually works. And what I came to know is indeed worth sharing.

Apple Pencil works in tandem with the iPad display to track and register strokes made by the user. With the help of onboard high-precision pressure and gyro sensors, the Pencil recognizes the strokes with varying degrees of density. Tilt sensors help monitor the tilting angle, corresponding to appropriate variations in your strokes.

Here's a more detailed guide on how the Apple Pencil works:

How Apple Pencil Works: A Quick Glance

Apple pencil 2

Before we get into how the Apple Pencil registers strokes that mimic actual pencil strokes, we need to understand how a stylus works.

The principle is simple, with capacitive touch screens, the device registers as input by analyzing the changes in the electrostatic field of the screen. But how does the electrostatic field distort?

When we touch the screen, the energy from our fingertips transcends the EF field. The device then picks up this distortion to register the touch as an input.

Even if this is the working principle behind a stylus, Apple Pencil has a bit more going on under the hood.

The thing is, Apple Pencils are active styluses that sync up with the device for the best precision and other advanced characteristics they are known for.

But things don't end there. The iPad, too, has a say on how Apple Pencil work.

The thing is, iPads feature an extra digitized layer that interacts with the Apple Pencil to register inputs. This is why Apple Pencils don't work with iPhones or any other device.

So, we now have a general understanding of how an Apple Pencil works. Here's a glance at the many things that happen when you use an Apple Pencil:

How Apple Pencil Works

Let's now look at the many nuances surrounding the Apple Pencil's operation:

How Apple Pencil Pairs with iPads

Apple Pencil paired with iPad

Since the launch of the OG Pencil, Apple has come out with an upgrade - the Apple Pencil 2.

And the Apple Pencil 1 and 2 have a lot of differences between them, out of which compatibility is the most notable.

Even if the Pencil is intended to work with the iPad, not all models share outright compatibility with the Pencil.

Here's how it goes with the Apple Pencil and iPad compatibility:

Apple Pencil 1Apple Pencil 2
iPad (6th Gen and later)iPad Mini (6th Gen)
iPad Mini (5th Gen)iPad Air (4th Gen and later)
iPad Air (3rd Gen)iPad Pro 11-inch
iPad Pro 9.7-inchiPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd Gen and later)
iPad Pro 10.5-inch
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd Gen)
Apple Pencil compatibility

Now that you have a general understanding of the compatibility factor, here's how you pair an Apple Pencil with your iPad:

Apple Pencil 1:

1. Remove the rear cap on your Apple Pencil.

2. Plug the Pencil into the lighting port of your iPad.

3. Tap on the Pair tile once it pops up on the screen.

The pairing is now complete. You can unpair the Apple Pencil by enabling Airplane mode on your iPad.

For newer iPads (10th gen and above), use a lighting-to-USB-C adapter to connect the Pencil to the device.

Apple Pencil 2:

1. Ensure Bluetooth is enabled on your iPad.

2. Attach the Pencil to the magnetic strip on your iPad.

3. A pop-up notification appears on the screen.

The setup is now complete.

You can now use your Apple Pencil to navigate, jot, sketch, or do pretty much anything you would otherwise do on your iPad with the Apple Pencil.

And that's pretty much it. Unlike other styluses compatible with iPads, the Apple Pencil enjoys the reputation of being the best interest of almost everything, apart from the price.

What Makes Apple Pencil Special?

Since we have covered the basics, let's dive into what goes on under the hood of the Apple Pencil.

As discussed earlier, apart from the general pairing up and how the host device recognizes an input, the Apple Pencil has a lot more to offer than that meets the eye.

Pressure sensitivity, tilt detection, and palm rejection are the advanced metrics that come into play when you use the Apple Pencil, especially when sketching or writing.

Do note that everything happens at lightning speeds (we're talking in the millisecond range), which is reflected in the insane report rates that the Apple Pencil exhibits.

Here are the many aspects of the Apple Pencil:

Pressure Sensitivity

Apple Pencil pressure sensitivity test

Sensing the pressure applied by the stylus, which is then exhibited in the strokes made on the screen, is one of the most distinguishable features of a good stylus and a cheap alternative.

The Apple Pencil is one of the most efficient and effective Pressure sensitivity features of any stylus in the market.

What pressure sensitivity does is that it determines the density of the strokes depending on how much pressure you apply, like how you would do with an actual pencil.

And it all happens in the Pencil. Your iPad merely takes into account the feedback from the Pencil to register corresponding variations.

Here is how it works:

As you know, the Apple Pencil features a tip, which is the focal point of all interactions.

Embedded along with the tip are pressure sensors that can detect and calculate three-dimensional feedback.

This includes both axial and radial feedback. Hence, the Apple Pencil can sense pressure either way, when it is perpendicular or at an angle.

Although Apple hasn't yet divulged the pressure sensitivity range of the Pencil series, it's safe to assume that it has a sensitivity detection range well over the base 2048 level. This is very similar to the Samsung Pen. However, the Samsung Pen is different from Apple Pencil in so many ways.

Tilt Detection on Apple Pencil

Apple pencil tilt detection

Unlike the pressure sensitivity feature, tilt detection requires both Apple Pencil and the iPad to work jointly to bring it into effect.

Tilt detection corresponds to the opacity of the strokes made by the Pencil. With tilt detection, users can shade and perform similar techniques as with a pencil.

But how does it work? Let's find out:

Apple Pencils feature dual electrodes, one at the tip and one at the grip end of the barrel (called ring electrode), that are responsible for tilt detection.

As you make contact with the screen, the iPad senses the capacitance of the electrodes relative to the screen. As you tilt the Pencil, the capacitance of the two electrodes varies accordingly.

Your iPad then assimilates these readings and adjusts the stroke width and opacity accordingly, thus providing a more realistic stroke.

Palm Rejection

Apple Pencil palm rejection on iPad

Palm rejection can be said as a relatively typical feature on most tablets right now. And like most tablets, Apple iPad, too, supports palm rejection.

But what does it do? Well, with palm rejection, you can negate any unwanted/accidental inputs made by your palm/fingers while using a stylus.

On Apple iPad, palm rejection will kick into action as soon as you pair an Apple Pencil. You don't have to do anything else.

You can also manually control the sensitivity of palm rejection on certain apps. Go to the settings and look for the app on which you would like to make a change.

But make sure to disable the Zoom feature from the settings tab or Apple Pencil Palm Rejection might fail on your iPad.

Unlike the other two features mentioned above, palm rejection doesn't have anything to do with the Apple Pencil, its working solely lies with the iPad. Obviously, you would have to connect one to enable it!

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a comprehensive guide on how the Apple Pencil work.

Ignoring the marvelous mechanism happening underneath the device, the Apple Pencil is an excellent pairing for your iPads.

The level of precision and stroke accuracy is virtually unmatched by most, save for the big hitters that cost a fortune.

And pairing the Apple Pencil to an iPad couldn't get any simpler. This is indeed one of the most fascinating features of the Pencil.

Now that you know how an Apple Pencil works, let's get to work and bring your imagination to life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Does the Apple Pencil work on iPhones?

No, Apple Pencil does not work on iPhones. They're solely meant to be used with iPads. The presence of an extra digitized layer on the iPad may be the prime reason for such a shortcoming.

How does an Apple Pencil charge?

First gen Apple Pencils are charged by plugging the Pencil into the lighting port of your iPad. Apple Pencil 2 charges up wirelessly through the magnetic dock on newer iPads.

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About Doug Stevenson

Hey! I'm Doug, My passion for tech started by fixing phones and computers for my friends and family.

I started Blinqblinq to give reliable tech advice to anyone who needs it, for free! If you have questions on anything tech-related, feel free to contact me.

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Doug Stevenson

Hey! I'm Doug, My passion for tech started by fixing phones and computers for my friends and family.

I started Blinqblinq to give reliable tech advice to anyone who needs it, for free! If you have questions on anything tech-related, feel free to contact me.

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