The next Apple Pencil could work on the Vision Pro for spatial sketching

A rumor claims the Apple Vision Pro headset will one day support a future model of the Apple Pencil. This news comes from MacRumors, who got their information from an anonymous “source familiar with the matter,” so we'll take it with a grain of salt. Details on the update are scarce as you can imagine, but if it is indeed real, it could quite literally turn the world into your personal canvas.

The report states the upcoming Apple Pencil could be used on flat surfaces, like a desk, “complete with pressure and tilt sensitivity” to accurately display your artistic vision on one of the headset’s illustration apps. Support for a stylus would require a software upgrade, “but it is unclear which version” of visionOS will see the patch. MacRumors points out the first beta for visionOS 1.2 could come out this week  with the Apple Pencil support. However, nothing can be said with total confidence. We can only surmise that testing is currently ongoing internally.

No word on when the update will roll out, if at all, and it’s entirely possible this will never see the light of day. However, MacRumors seems to believe we could see something during the expected reveal of visionOS 2 at WWDC 2024 this June.

It is worth mentioning an Apple Pencil refresh is supposed to come out alongside new iPads models very soon. Whether or not this refresh and a Vision Pro update are one and the same remains to be seen. 

Analysis: Picking up the digital pen

Assuming this is all true (and fingers crossed that it is), an Apple Pencil on the Vision Pro would do wonders for achieving precise control. The hands-free control scheme is one of the main selling points for the headset. You don’t need special controllers to navigate the user interface. Thanks to an array of cameras and sensors, owners can simply use their eyes and hands to command the software. This method of navigation is fine for most things, but when it comes to drawing, it turns into a nightmare.

TechRadar’s Editor At Large Lance Ulanoff dealt with this first hand when he tried to illustrate on the Vision Pro. He ended up calling the whole experience “insanely frustrating and difficult.” The main problem is that the gaze controls clash with the hand gestures. If your eyes move between a reference image and the digital canvas, the art piece falls apart because the headset prioritizes what you’re looking at. Then there are other problems, like the numerous bugs affecting the current slate of art apps.

The hope with the future Apple Pencil is it’ll help keep the canvas steady. That way, there isn’t this weird back and forth between the two methods of controls.

If you're looking to pick up illustration as a hobby, check out TechRadar's list of the best free drawing software for 2024.

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An Apple Vision Pro Pencil could be on the way, based on a new patent

We now know that the Apple Vision Pro is going to be available to buy from February 2, with preorders opening on January 19, but a newly discovered patent suggests that Apple engineers are busy looking to the future of the mixed reality headset.

The patent, spotted by Patently Apple, shows what looks like a giant Apple Pencil. The idea is that the implement could be used to write or draw in virtual space, or to select and manipulate items that exist in virtual or augmented reality.

“A handheld controller with a marker-shaped housing may have an elongated housing that spans across the width of a user's hand and that can be held like a pen, pencil, marker, wand, or tool,” reads part of the patent application.

And while a “head-mounted device” like the Vision Pro is extensively referenced in the documentation, this peripheral could also be used with phones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, and other devices, according to the patent.

Apple Vision Pro Pencil patent diagram

Like the Apple Pencil… but bigger (Image credit: USPTO/Apple)

Virtual paint brushes

One of the cool little tricks that this implement might offer, as per the patent, is being able to display a range of “brush heads” that are only visible in AR – so it could change from looking like a paintbrush to a spray can inside the Vision Pro headset, for instance.

We've got minions of swipes and waves and shakes, as well as writing and drawing, so there's clearly lots of potential for whatever this device is. All these movements would be measured via sensors built into the pencil itself.

Apple has made a point of saying that you only need your fingers and hands to manipulate the software environment inside the Vision Pro headset, but we've also seen other patents that suggest other input methods are currently being worked on.

The usual patent disclaimers apply here: these filings give us some ideas about the tech that companies are developing and thinking about, but at the same time there's no guarantee that an actual product will result from them.

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Apple Vision Pro finger controllers could be the VR equivalent of the Apple Pencil

When Apple unveiled its Vision Pro headset, it made a point of saying you wouldn’t need any external controllers to use it, just your fingers. Well, that might not end up being true forever, as a recent patent has revealed that Apple has had an intriguing idea for how you could one day control the headset – and it might take things to the next level.

As spotted by Patently Apple, future iterations of the Vision Pro might include finger-pointer devices that look an awful lot like space-age thimbles. But these aren’t designed to help you with your knitting; no, they might one day let you draw and write with the Vision Pro more accurately than ever before.

Apple’s idea involves showing a virtual trackpad on the Vision Pro’s display. Once you’re wearing the finger controllers, they’d connect to the headset and allow it to track your finger movements more closely, giving you a more reliable way of interacting with the trackpad than if you were to simply use your unadorned fingers.

But this trackpad wouldn’t just be a floating area in space; it would be mapped to a physical location in front of you, such as a portion of the desk you’re sitting at. That’s important, because it would allow you to be more consistent with your trackpad motions. Try it now – you’ll find that tracing a shape on a solid surface is much easier and more comfortable than trying to do it in mid-air.

The Apple Pencil moment

Apple Vision Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

The addition of the finger trackers is an interesting move by Apple, as it seems to be an admission that the Vision Pro’s camera system is perhaps not yet accurate enough for really fine-grained work of the kind a trackpad would be good at.

By adding more precision via the finger controllers, Apple could be paving the way for additional ways to use the Vision Pro. Activities like digital painting might become much more viable while wearing the headset, as could writing messages by hand.

That could make these finger pointers an accessory akin the iPad’s Apple Pencil: not necessary for most people to enjoy the device, but something that can seriously ramp up its potential in the right hands (or on the right fingers), and for certain applications.

Seeing as this idea is just a patent at this point, we don’t know when (or if) Apple will implement it; the company could just be exploring ideas. Still, it’s something to look out for in the coming months and years – perhaps it’ll even make an appearance in the second-generation Vision Pro, which could give that device a serious usability boost.

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