A beginner's guide to the Apple Pencil

When Apple released its iPad Pro last fall, it did not hit stores alone. Alongside the enterprise-grade tablet shipped the Apple Pencil, a revolutionary drawing tool so simple Apple promised creatives would know how to use it the very first time they picked one up. Packed full of accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors, the Apple Pencil allows users to create different effects by tilting and applying pressure with the tool, simulating the experience of writing with the traditional graphite pencil we all grew up using.

Even though it has arguably the smallest learning curve of any Apple product to date, there are still a few things to know about the Apple Pencil. Here, we'll break down how to get started the first time you break out the Apple Pencil as well as a few things the device can and cannot do:

Getting started
The Apple Pencil communicates with the iPad Pro using Bluetooth. To connect the devices, remove the cap from the rounded end of the Pencil and plug the exposed Lightening connector into the port on your iPad Pro. After a few seconds, you will see a prompt on the tablet allowing you to pair your Apple Pencil. If you don't see the message, open Control Center and make sure your Bluetooth setting is enabled. Restarting your tablet or switching it into airplane mode can cause the devices to disconnect. In this case, simply repeat the process to resume the connection. 

Once you've paired your Pencil, you can leave it plugged into the tablet for charging. Just 15 seconds of charging yields 30 minutes of battery life, according to Apple, so you won't have to wait long. You can view the amount of battery you have remaining using the Battery widget in your iPad Pro's Notification Center. 

The Apple Pencil can…
The Apple Pencil is positioned as a premium drawing device, but that's not all it can do. Outside of creative apps, the Pencil works much like a traditional stylus, reported Apple Insider. Here are a few functions you can use the device for, besides drawing, according to the tech publication:

  • Open apps
  • Scroll and navigate
  • Type on keyboard
  • Enter passcode
  • Call for Spotlight search
  • Trace through standard computer paper. 

But it can't…
At first, it might seem like you can use the Apple Pencil to control your tablet just as you would a finger. However, there are a few limits to this system, which Apple included to enhance the Pencil's functionality as a drawing tool. For example, you cannot activate Notifications or Control Center by swiping at the edges of the screen, Apple Insider found. While this might be frustrating to get used to, it keeps artists and other creative users from accidentally pulling the menus up while drawing near the top or bottom of the tablet. Similarly, the Apple Pencil cannot prompt an iPad Pro to enter Split Screen mode, for similar reasons. 

As much as the drawing tool might feel like a real pencil, you can't use the bottom end to erase lines you've drawn. While this might seem obvious, you'd be surprised how often second nature kicks in and finds you spinning the Pencil in your hand for a quick undo. Finally, the Apple Pencil is made exclusively for the iPad Pro – it will not work with an iPhone or even any other iPad. 

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