How to use the Apple Pencil: 3 must-read tips

The Apple Pencil changed the way users interact with tablet computers. Here's how to ensure you're making the most of your Apple stylus.

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Image: AdrianHancu, Getty Images/iStock Images

Although many manufacturers introduced products that leveraged a stylus--including everything from the Apple Newton to the Philips Nino--when Apple introduced its digital Pencil in 2015, it truly changed the way users work with tablet computers. Whereas previous styluses enabled writing and drawing, the Apple Pencil produced a remarkably different experience; the pressure a user applies changes the heaviness of the digital instrument's stroke, as does the angle at which the pencil tip contacts the tablet surface.

The Apple Pencil and iPad combination offers improved handwriting recognition, more precise operation, and erasing capability. Learn how to make the most of your Apple Pencil.

SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

  1. How to know which Apple Pencil works with your iPad

Start by ensuring you purchase and use the right Apple Pencil with the right iPad. The Apple Pencil 1st generation ($99) is round, white, and 176mm long with a silver metallic band at the top (Figure A); this Apple stylus works with these iPad models:

  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st or 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad (6th generation)

Figure A

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The original 1st-generation Apple Pencil features a metallic silver band.

Image: Apple Inc.

The 2nd-generation Apple Pencil ($129) is 166mm long and white, but the newer model features the Apple logo and Pencil labeling in place of the silver band and features multiple sides. The sides help prevent the Pencil from rolling off a desk, an issue with which many 1st-generation Pencil users are familiar. The 2nd-generation Apple Pencil (Figure B) works with these iPads:

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch

Figure B

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The 2nd-generation Apple Pencil features flat sides to prevent rolling. It also supports customizable gestures.

Image: Apple Inc.

The two Apple Pencils re-charge differently, too. To charge a 1st-generation Apple Pencil, remove its cap and place the Lightning connector in an iPad, or use the female-to-female connector included with the Apple Pencil to charge the stylus using a standard Lightning cable. To charge a 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, ensure Bluetooth is enabled on the iPad and attach the Apple Pencil to the magnetic connector at the iPad's center or right side.

SEE: Apple iPadOS: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

2. How to customize the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil's features

Users of the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil should break out of their comfort zone and familiarize themselves with the device's gestures. For example, 2nd-generation Apple Pencil users can configure the instrument to switch from serving as a pencil to working as an eraser via a quick double tap on the stylus' side.

Here's how to customize the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil's gestures. On the iPad, go to Settings and select Apple Pencil. Four options are available:

  • Switch Between Current Tool and Eraser: Permits double-tapping to turn the Apple Pencil into an eraser vs. a pencil.
  • Switch Between Current Tool and Last Used: Enables switching between the current configuration, such as a writing stylus, and the last used tool or function.
  • Show Color Palette: Permits calling color selections to change writing, shading, or highlighting color.
  • Off: Disables the device's double-tap capability.

Second-generation Apple Pencil users can also adjust the double-tap sensitivity. To do so, on the iPad, go to Settings, then tap General. Select Accessibility and tap Apple Pencil. From the resultant menu, users can disable Apple Pencil gestures altogether or change the speed at which double-taps are registered.

3. How to use the Apple Pencil for new functions

You may have purchased the Apple Pencil to enable note-taking on an iPad. Or maybe you purchased the Apple Pencil to permit creating a network, workflow, or organizational chart diagrams. Regardless of the reason you purchased the instrument, challenge yourself to use Apple's stylus for other purposes. 

By experimenting with the Apple Pencil to perform other functions, you can better maximize the use of your iPad. Too often technology devices offer far more capacity and functionality than we use--only by consciously choosing to explore and test a device's other capabilities can we really become comfortable using the technology for those other purposes and begin optimally using the tool. Who doesn't want more efficiency, anyway, especially when the improvements come in the form of commonly repeated everyday functions? That's where wins really stack up.

The Apple Pencil's versatility makes it surprisingly easy to mark up images, annotate email, create sketches, generate organizational charts, draft diagrams, and produce and edit various illustrations. The Apple Pencil also lends itself to powering free-flowing brainstorming sessions, building lists, executing checklists, and signing off on agreements and contracts.

SEE: How to use Apple Pencil: 21 features, tips, and tricks (ZDNet)

The trick is taking time to learn all the ways the Apple Pencil can be employed. The instrument isn't just for artists--professionals can wield the stylus, with its innovative precision and assistive flexibility, to perform myriad tasks previously performed using other tools, applications, and methods. Because the Apple Pencil permits resting your palm on the display, creating illustrations, drafting furniture diagrams or seating layouts, adjusting or annotating screenshots, adding notes to documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and similar tasks are more quickly and easily completed.

And, remember, you need not be a gifted creative professional. Best-selling author Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin book reminds and shows readers that powerful and complex messages can be quickly distilled to basic components that are often more easily communicated and understood using the most basic of shapes and diagrams.

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