Apple’s optional iPad Pro stylus may become more than just an artist’s best friend. A patent published by the USPTO on Thursday describes a new model of Apple Pencil that could sense motion as well as draw on touch surfaces. When in motion mode, the pencil would use a six-axis inertial sensor to open the iPad up to a whole new range of apps. Here are the possibilities we’re most excited about.
1. As a drum stick
GarageBand has a range of virtual instruments, but they all depend on touching the screen. Apple has managed to get around the limitations of the iPad’s hardware to improve the instruments’ immersiveness, however. The keyboard uses accelerometer motion to detect how hard a user is pressing, changing the sound accordingly.
A motion sensing stick would take the instruments to a whole new level. Apple lists “a drum stick, a xylophone mallet, a gong beater, a conductor’s baton, or other musical instruments” as possible applications. Waving a $99 stylus around like a gong beater sounds like a sure-fire way to lose your prized possession, so Apple would probably need some sort of wrist attachment to stop it from flying away.
A conductor’s baton might be a fun way to change the tempo of a song in progress. This was something Nintendo tried with the Wii, though. Wii Music got mediocre reviews when it was released in 2008. Hopefully Apple could make Garageband conducting a little bit more engaging.
2. As a sword
Apple lists a number of ways the pencil’s motion sensing capabilities could be used in gameplay. The pencil, the application states, could be used as “a sword, a wand, or a hammer (as examples).”
Imagine an immersive new style of game where you touch the iPad screen to move around. You’re wandering through a forest, skulking the area, when suddenly a knight ambushes you! You pull the pencil out from your pocket, which displays in virtual form as a sword. You wave it around to wade off the foe, while back in reality, you’re waving your pencil in front of your iPad like some sort of indecisive artist.
Until now, Apple has not done much to really change the dynamics of iOS gameplay. Sure, the iPhone 6s introduced pressure sensitivity, but barely any apps use it. iOS 7 introduced physical gamepad support, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. A portable Wii-like gameplay device could really transform games.
3. As a laser pointer
Who needs a laser pointer when you’ve got an Apple Pencil? Motion sensing could make future presentations feel like the coolest thing in the world, pointing out key information or flicking between slides. The pencil could even be used to point at and shame people falling asleep in your lecture, but that’s something the current pencil can do anyway.
4. As a much better paint brush
At first, this one seems slightly pointless, as the Apple Pencil is already very well suited for art projects. But motion sensing could really open up the pencil to new forms of expression. Imagine flicking a virtual paintbrush from a distance to splatter a canvas or throwing a paint bucket. Apple describes a situation where a graffiti artist holds the pencil like a spray can, moving closer and farther away to change the paint distribution.