Apple Pencil concept could let you use a stylus to control your Mac in lieu of a mouse

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Apple’s Pencil is a capable stylus, but it definitely isn’t the cheapest out there — at $99, it costs more than Walcom’s Creative Stylus 2 ($60), Microsoft’s Surface Pen ($60), and Samsung’s S Pen ($16). That’s hard to swallow for a peripheral constrained to iPad apps, but if a new patent application is any indication, its limitations may be only temporary. An Apple filing granted in May describes new Pencil hardware that supports gesture-based commands and works with Mac trackpads.

The application for “Stylus with inertial sensor,” which was submitted two years ago, shows a stylus that interfaces seamlessly with the trackpad of a Macbook or an iMac-compatible Magic Trackpad. Using “electromagnetic signals from electrodes at the first end of the stylus,” the theoretical Pencil would translate movements along the trackpad’s surface into sketches within digital drawing pads, note-taking programs, and any other apps that support it.

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The patent goes further. A hub of motion-tracking sensors would allow the Pencil to register “in-air gestures” that would trigger onscreen actions — you could program a “circle eight” motion to launch a Safari tab and a fist pump to trigger LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Thanks to a combination of precise orientation tracking and embedded capacitive sensors, it would allow you to manipulate objects and windows within OS X, too — think rotating a 3D object in Blender, flipping through slides in Keynote, or moving a character in a video game. And wilder still, capacitive sensors would process both single-touch and multitouch gestures for the purpose of, say, increasing the thickness of a brush in Photoshop to correspond with your grip strength.

There’s no telling whether or not the supercharged Apple Pencil the patent describes will ever come to market, of course — filings are poor indicators of company road maps. At best, it’s a glimpse into designs Apple is mulling over, and perhaps the precursor to a polished, mass-market product somewhere down the line. Given the utility of a beefed-up Apple Pencil, though, it seems a likelier candidate for the light of day than most.

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