Monday, February 22, 2016

iOS 9.3 Removes Pencil Interface Control

Juli Clover (via Mike Rundle):

Over the course of the iOS 9.3 beta testing period, iPad Pro users running the update have noticed a disturbing feature removal that limits the functionality of the Apple Pencil. In the current version of iOS, iOS 9.2, the Apple Pencil can be used for navigational purposes, just like a finger. It’s possible to tap on buttons, select text, scroll, swipe between apps, access menus, and access general editing controls in non-drawing apps.

With iOS 9.3, much of that functionality has been removed. The Apple Pencil is no longer able to be used for selecting and manipulating text or doing things like scrolling -- it’s only available for selecting buttons and drawing, sketching, and writing within apps.

Serenity Caldwell:

But the fact remains that the Pencil’s owners use those navigation options, and frankly, the idea that Apple would take away functionality that people have come to expect and depend on is a significant hit to usability and overall experience.

Worse, it makes the Pencil useless for video and audio editing, creative pursuits that I’d hoped to explore further on the iPad Pro. I’d initially enjoyed editing and cutting several videos in iMovie for iOS with the help of the Pencil; now, you can only select and drag clips. You can’t cut a clip with the downward swipe gesture, nor can you scroll the timeline.

Being able to control the interface and manipulate text with the pencil was one of my favorite features of the iPad Pro.

Update (2016-02-22): Jonathan Deutsch:

@cgpgrey passionately discusses this on cortex and how the pencil helps his RSI (starting at 1:20:30)

Update (2016-02-25): Chris Welch (via John Gruber, comments):

Apple has no plans to cripple its Pencil accessory for the iPad Pro. After recent iOS 9.3 betas removed the ability to navigate around iOS with the $99 add-on — marketed as a drawing tool more than a stylus — Apple has confirmed with The Verge that all of those features will soon make a comeback. “We believe a finger will always be the primary way users navigate on an iPad, but we understand that some customers like to use Apple Pencil for this as well,” a spokesperson said. “We will add this functionality back in the next beta of iOS 9.3.”

Jason Snell:

Whether Apple was always intending to bring that feature back, or changed course because of the feedback it received during the beta, is an open question. If Apple truly did change course because of customer feedback, though, I see no need for the company to hide it: Listening to customer feedback and modifying your plans accordingly should be a badge of honor, not shame.

5 Comments RSS · Twitter

That's just inexplicable, no? Why?

Selecting physical text with a physical highlighter is a glaringly obvious candidate for digital replication via the Pencil. Why would Apple want to remove the digital equivalent of highlighting? Will this affect third party apps like LiquidText which leverage the Pencil APIs to make highlighting easier?

For me, being able to use the Pencil as a stand-in for touch input was a minor (but important) reason for getting the Pro in the first place. What usability improvements could Apple claim to be offering by ripping out such wide-ranging functionality?

I really can't think of any reasonable reason why Apple would do this intentionally, except that maybe they are starting to rewrite how it works in the backend, and have only done so partially for this release. Or is this about making interaction design consistent across different apps? Presumably, pencil scrolling only worked in apps that didn't have pen input in the content area?

I think we're not getting the whole story.

"I think we're not getting the whole story."

You may very well be correct, Lukas. But even if we stipulate something like your theoretical rationales are correct, it still seems quite odd to just remove the feature before they roll out the 'new improved' feature, no?

The whole thing just seems baffling from all POV's to me.


> In a recent podcast, co-founder Myke Hurley said he's heard that the decision isn't a bug, but an intentional design decision.
> "Sources in the know confirm that removing the functionality of the Apple Pencil is a decision inside of Apple. It is not a bug they have overlooked for three betas. It is a decision."

audio version:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by "knowing better than the user"? Hopefully, they back-pedal on the most stupid aspects of this.

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