A recent US Patent and Trademark Office filing for an Apple stylus gives hints at what iPad Pro hopefuls can anticipate for the larger 12.9-inch tablet. Unlike the current iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, the iPad Pro is expected to come with expanded functionality, and in the past we've heard rumors that the slate will also support a digital input stylus, a first for the category.
Apple's patent application shows a stylus, that when paired with a tablet, can offer 3D input sensing based on factors such as the angle of the pen when it's touching the screen and the distance the pen is from the tablet.
In addition to pen support, the iPad Pro may get new iOS features, such as support for multiple users and simultaneous multitasking.
Feeling the force
There is mention of a grip sensor as well as a pressure sensor on the pen. The grip sensor would be used to tell how hard a user is holding onto the stylus, while the pressure sensor can detect how hard the user is pushing the pen against the screen.
The latter feature could potentially be integrated with Apple's Force Touch technology, a feature that's been integrated with the touchpad on the latest MacBook and is rumored to make an appearance on the next iPhone display.
Challenging the Surface Pen
The features discussed in the patent filing would make Apple's iPad Pro pen a good competitor against rival Microsoft's Surface Pen for the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3.
Earlier rumors suggest that the iPad Pro pen would connect to the tablet via Bluetooth, a feature that is already employed by the Surface Pen. Additionally, the recent patent filing details side buttons on the pen that could be used to control input.
This could allow the pen to quickly launch a handwriting or drawing app using the button, a feature that is similar to Microsoft's quick launch button on the Surface Pen to initiate OneNote.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo speculates that the 3D handwriting feature may not arrive until next year. This would give the iPad Pro pen an advantage over the Surface Pen, which could detect 256 levels of pressure but isn't capable of 3D writing.
Back to basics
Even though late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had dismissed the pen with iOS, hedging the company's post-PC future on capacitive touchscreens and finger-friendly UIs, there is a rise in popularity for pens with regards to handwriting, drawing and advanced sketching features. Rival Samsung made an investment in digital pen company Wacom, while Microsoft recently acquired N-trig, the company behind the technology of the Surface Pen.
If Apple changes course and releases the iPad Pro with a pen, it would chase the prosumer, academic and enterprise market that Microsoft and Samsung are pursuing with the Windows-powered Surface Pro 3 and the Android-enabled Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, respectively. Apple has been teaming up with IBM to launch enterprise apps, and the hardware capabilities of the pen may also help enterprise adoption at a time when consumer tablet sales have been slumping.
At this time, it's unclear if the iPad Pro pen would be bundled with the slate or if it's an optional accessory. Microsoft includes its battery-operated pen in the Surface Pro 3, but makes the stylus an optional add-on with the Surface 3.
The unannounced and rumored iPad Pro could launch as early as this year with a simple pen, according to Kuo, and a more advanced pen that supports 3D writing may arrive next year.
The iPad Pro, known internally as J98 and J99, is said to be in the testing phase, according to a separate report, and Apple may be readying a new version of iOS that supports simultaneous multitasking on the larger screen of the Pro tablet. Multi-user support, which is already available on Windows and Android slates, is also said to be coming to iPad Pro, and Apple could use WWDC 2015 to announce the latest changes to iOS.
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