Missing the Point: A Preemptive Refutation of Complaints About Apple Pencil on iPhone

14 August 2018

Unveiling the iPhone eleven and a half years ago, Steve Jobs made a remark that got more attention than it deserved, largely because of pundits’ uncanny tendency to misinterpret things. What Jobs said was a comment about styli: “Who wants a stylus?” Of course Jobs’ contention was more nuanced than that, but for pundits’ purposes, these four words were hard evidence that Jobs didn’t want styli on iPhones or iPads.

Fast-forward eight years. When the iPad Pro launched in 2015 with the Apple Pencil, everyone fell head over heels screeching “APPLE HAS DEFIED THE WISHES OF STEVE JOBS!” without considering for one millisecond the context in which Steve Jobs dismissed styli — not as drawing devices but as primary interface mechanisms.

Back in 2007, Apple had to sell touchscreens as being a good input mechanism for everyday device usage. One alternative to the touchscreen was a stylus that was used for the majority of interaction with the display. On the iPhone’s contemporaries of 2007, the term “stylus” was not the equivalent of the Apple Pencil or S Pen. It was primarily an input device. And Jobs was right that had the iPhone included a stylus as the main interface, it would have been complete trash. Who wants to use a stylus instead of touch?

The Apple Pencil is not intended to be used as the major input device for iPads. Apple, at least, believes that the Pencil should be used in tandem with touch — that’s why iPads allow both to be used at the same time. iPads are designed for touch input first. The Apple Pencil is designed for situations in which a precise drawing or writing utensil makes more sense than finger input. That in no way contradicts what Steve Jobs said about styli, because Jobs was talking about styli as interaction methods rather than drawing utensils.

Fast-forward to 2018, and there’s been speculation for a while about if and when Apple will bring Apple Pencil support to future iPhone models, or maybe even the Mac. Uluroo has expected that maybe the larger iPhone models will get a smaller drawing utensil further down the road. But this morning, he was rather surprised to see a report claiming that some or all of the 2018 iPhones will in fact support Apple Pencil.

Personally, Uluroo finds this unlikely. He just has a hard time believing a rumor that surfaced less than a month before the unveiling of the new iPhones and is uncorroborated by any previous speculation (at least, not for the 2018 models). But he could be wrong. Uluroo definitely thinks Apple Pencil support for iPhones would be a good idea, but he isn’t convinced that it’s happening this year without seeing a conclusive hardware or software leak. Hopefully, the iPhone at least won’t get the exact same Apple Pencil used on iPads, because that thing is just too darn big for a more portable device.

Anyway, the legitimacy of the rumor is inconsequential to this discussion. Uluroo is certain that some ignorant pundit is going to complain about how drawing utensils on iPhone, whenever they happen, are the ultimate dismissal of Steve Jobs’ dismissal of styli, so he decided to prepare. Preemptive warfare, Uluroo supposes.

Dear ignorant pundit, you are wrong. Had Steve Jobs seen the modern Apple Pencil, who knows what he would have said? But the Pencil, whether on iPhone or iPad, does not fall into the category of primary input devices Jobs collectively condemned.

Hopefully everyone can be on the same page now and stop misinterpreting decade-old comments. But Uluroo isn’t holding his breath.