Apple patents next-gen Pencil with an Optical Sensor that can pick colors and textures from real life

Apple just took the eyedropper tool and made it real.

Ever seen a beautiful mural on a wall and felt like being able to capture those colors for your own art? Sure, you could carry a Pantone shade book everywhere you go… or if Apple has its way, you could just touch your Apple Pencil on the mural and capture its color like an eyedropper tool in real life. Apple just recently filed a patent at the US Patent & Trademark Office for a next-gen Apple Pencil with built-in optical sensors that don’t just capture colors, they capture textures too. A complicated array of tech built into the Apple Pencil’s nib would help turn it into more than just a stylus. Instead of being merely a note-keeping and art-creating device, the Pencil would also now help gather inspiration, letting you build your own bank of hues and textures to use in your projects as reference material.

Designer/Visualizer: Sarang Sheth

The way the new Apple Pencil works is theoretically simple – as per the patent drawings, a light sensor and a light emitter sit within the stylus tip. The emitter and sensor work together to help sample colors and textures as you tap the Pencil on any surface. The way it works is no different from your mouse, which uses a light emitter and optical sensor to track movement. The only key difference is that the Pencil does that WHILE also being able to function as a stylus for your iPad.

The patent was discovered by the fine folks at Patently Apple, who also reported that this technology could be used to even detect measurements, aside from hue and texture. How this would work seems a little sketchy at best – would you need to have the iPad handy while using the Apple Pencil’s sampling feature? Where would all the data get saved? How would one toggle the feature, because you need to tap the Pencil on the iPad’s touchscreen to use it as a stylus.

For now, this next-gen feature exists only as a patent and it’s pretty unclear if Apple plans on radically redesigning the pencil, although it’s been over 4 years since Apple announced the Pencil Gen 2. Apple has patented various Pencil-adjacent technologies in the past, including an early 2021 patent for detachable custom nibs that give your Pencil a more artistic approach, and a recent patent for a Pencil with a rotary element on top and multiple touch-sensitive areas on its body. Which new feature do you want in the next-gen Apple Pencil??

Patent Images via Patently Apple
Stylus Concept visualizations via Sarang Sheth