Apple explains why it made the Apple Pencil Pro's secret shadows feature

Apple Pencil Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple recently launched a new Apple Pencil Pro alongside the updated OLED iPad Pro, and it’s fair to say that the accessory has been well received so far. But there’s one secret Apple Pencil Pro feature that Apple has never talked about – until now.

After the Apple Pencil Pro launched, users discovered that it casts a virtual shadow on the iPad’s OLED display, much like a real pencil would. For example, if you’re writing something by hand, the Apple Pencil Pro casts a shadow that resembles a fountain pen. If you’re painting, you’ll instead see the shadow of a paintbrush. It’s a neat feature for sure, but why exactly did Apple implement it?

Well, now we know. Speaking to French tech site Numerama (translated version), Apple user interface designer Steve Lemay described how the idea was to make the interaction between the Apple Pencil Pro and the iPad Pro feel as natural as possible.

“In the past, we had to rely on your own memory [of which tool you were using],” such as a pen or a paintbrush, Lemay explained. “We designed a digital shadow to make you feel like you’re holding a real pencil. This convinces you it’s a sheet of paper.”

In other words, the intention is to replicate the experience you would get from using a traditional, analog pencil on a piece of paper. If it feels natural, you’ll be better able to concentrate on the work you’re doing rather than being distracted by a digital tool, the thinking goes.

Attention to detail

Apple Pencil Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

It’s little touches like this that often earn Apple plaudits and has built the company’s reputation for attention to detail. And we've certainly been impressed with the Apple Pencil Pro during our time with it so far.

The souped-up stylus also has a handy new squeeze function for pulling up a 'palette tool', which lets you change the ink color or undo pen strokes. That's something we wish it had had years ago. 

There are also already apps, including Goodnotes 6 and Morpholio Trace, that take advantage of the Pencil Pro's new functionality. That's assuming you have an iPad Pro 13-inch (M4), iPad Pro 11-inch (M4), iPad Air 13-inch (M2) or iPad Air 11-inch (M2), which are currently the only tablets that support the new stylus.

But the new shadow feature is also definitely a nice touch that involved a surprising amount of engineering. Developer Nicolás Álvarez, for example, dug around in Xcode and found over ten different models that Apple used for its shadows, showcasing their incredibly detailed meshes.

Knowing Apple, this sort of attention to detail shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s a good example of how even small features can add up to make a big difference.

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Alex Blake
Freelance Contributor

Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.