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Apple files patent application for a third-generation Apple Pencil

The late Steve Jobs introduced the touchscreen Apple iPhone in January 2007 by famously saying, “Who wants a stylus? You have to get them and put them away and you lose them. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus.” But in 2015, the Apple Pencil was unveiled for the iPad Pro. Of course, the Apple Pencil is much more advanced than the simple stylus that Jobs was familiar with back in the day. Three years later, Apple’s second-generation Pencil was announced.

And now Apple appears ready to take its digital writing instrument to another level. According to Patently Apple, the company recently filed patent application number US 20220413636 A1 with the US Patent & Trademark Office for an optical sensor that would be used with the next-generation Apple Pencil. The sensor would allow the pencil to copy the texture and the color found on the surface of an item. It also would be able to wirelessly send this data to a laptop so it could be used with a drawing program.

Apple’s patent application describes an Apple Pencil able to “sample” textures and colors of other items

According to the patent application, the pencil would contain a light sensor and a light emitter which would help the device “sample” the color and texture of a surface. Yanko Design created some renders showing what the Apple Pencil would look like with the optical sensors included in the design of the new digital stylus.

Apple has applied for or received a patent for other ideas and innovations related to the Apple Pencil. In 2021, it received a patent for an Apple Pencil with interchangeable nibs (the writing tip on the end of the accessory). The nib can be changed to replace one that is worn down, or could be changed to change the capabilities of the nib based on “a color, a shape, a thickness, a size, a brightness, or an opacity.” While you can currently replace a worn-out tip, it doesn’t add any new features to the accessory.

Nearly three years ago, Apple filed a patent application for an Apple Pencil with a biometric security feature, a method to use the number of times the pencil is tapped on the screen as  an input that could be used to initiate a copy function, a paste function, an undo function, and/or a redo function.” Other possible additions to the Apple Pencil that we’ve seen mentioned in a patent application include “a speaker, a rotary input device, a microphone, an on/off button, a mute button, a biometric sensor, a camera, a force and/or touch-sensitive trackpad, and so on.”

A new Apple Pencil could arrive in 2024 alongside the AMOLED iPad Pro

If we do see a new Apple Pencil, it might not be until the 2024 iPad Pro is introduced, which could be the first iPad to sport an OLED display. When you think about it, that might be the perfect time to offer a new digital stylus with the ability to sample colors and textures lifted by the pencil, and include features such as a microphone and a camera.

Just because you see something in a patent application or even a patent, it doesn’t mean you should expect it to be used in a consumer device right away. In fact, of the large number of patents that Apple receives every year,  many are never used. So we can’t say for certain that the technology covered in a patent application or a patent will be used by the company. However, it does make sense that Apple would want to keep improving the capabilities of the Apple Pencil.

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