New iPad Pro 2020 patent shows a novel way it could rival Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Apple Pencil
The Apple Pencil (Image credit: Future)

The Apple Pencil 2 for iPad Pro devices is useful, but its functionality doesn't even come close to how handy the S Pen stylus is for devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note series. However a patent for the new iPad Pro 2020 suggests Apple could have some big improvements in store for the upcoming premium tablets.

This patent, discovered by AppleInsider, shows a series of improvements to the iPad Pro's Apple Pencil stylus, including haptic feedback (vibration when you do certain things) as well as detection for how hard you're gripping the device - and, as an alternative notification mode, press against where fingers are gripping to 'poke' the user.

At the moment the Apple Pencil 2 is very useful but it has a few flaws – one supposed function is gesture controls that let you change the function of the Apple Pencil simply by pressing the sides. In almost a year of testing the tablet, we've had that work exactly zero times, and while this doesn't ruin the use experience, it makes it hard to view the stylus as anything more than a long plastic finger.

If the features from this patent do find their way into the new iPad Pro's stylus, perhaps the Apple Pencil 3, we could see a genuine re-invention of the way we use the tool. Perhaps the top-end tablet could even have better stylus integration than we're expecting the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 to have.

Why compare a tablet with a smartphone?

We know, it seems a bit bizarre to compare a top-end Apple tablet to a premium Samsung smartphone, but hear us out here.

Of all the tech products you can buy right now, arguably the iPad Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note phones are the two that are most dependant on styluses as part of their identity (as well as the Nintendo DS, but come on, it's 2020...). Therefore how intrinsic the stylus is to the phone experience, is an important reflection of how useful the handset is.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 had a range of really useful features that you used the S Pen stylus for, like Screen Off Memo which let you write up notes even when the phone wasn't on, and a range of gesture controls to let you take pictures remotely by triggering the stylus. These functions genuinely revolutionized how we used the smartphone.

As previously mentioned, though, the iPad Pro's Apple Pencil doesn't have any of these impressive features, and as such the tablets (which are mind-meltingly expensive) don't feel as high-tech as the (relatively) small smartphones. Like we said, how you use the stylus is an extension of how useful the product is, and at the moment we'd argue iPads are falling behind Galaxy Note devices.

If the contents of this patent make their way into the Apple Pencil 3 for the new iPad Pros, we could see Apple regain their stylus lead as the manufacturer of the best productivity product.

Saying that, patents don't always find their way into finished products in the end, so for now let's just wait until the new iPad Pro units are shown off (apparently at the end of March) before assuming the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 units have some real stylus competition.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.