The new Apple Pencil Pro is a death-sentence for Wacom

Wacom was once an industry leader in the sketching tablet PC market. However, it’s no match for the deadly combo of the new iPad Pro M4 and the Apple Pencil Pro. Announced at the iPad keynote yesterday, the new Pencil Pro packs features so unique, it makes EMR and capacitive styluses look like tools from the Stone Age. The new Pencil Pro has a new squeeze gesture to activate quick menus, can track rotation to have objects and brushes rotate in real-time (known as barrel roll), and even has a haptic motor for feedback – while still packing features from previous models like the hover feature, pressure and tilt sensitivity, and low-latency. If all that wasn’t enough, the Pencil Pro even has Find My support, allowing you to locate your stylus if it ever gets lost. The Wacom Pro Pen 3 on the other hand, has buttons.

Styluses have existed for decades at this point, and if you asked anyone ten years back which was the most well-designed stylus and tablet combo for creatives, the answer would invariably be something from Wacom’s lineup. The company had three options back in the day, the budget Wacom Bamboo, the mid-range Wacom Intuos, and the flagship Wacom Cintiq. Apart from the Cintiq, none of the other tablets had screens – they were just massive trackpads that you could only draw on with styluses. The Cintiq was the closest thing to an iPad – it had a screen, allowed multi-touch gestures, and came with controls galore… the only problem was that it didn’t work independently, it needed to be tethered to a desktop or laptop to work. The Cintiq, along with the Intuos and Bamboo, came with a stylus that featured a pressure and tilt-sensitive tip, along with programable buttons that let you undo or redo tasks, and a stylus tip on the back of the pen also that activated the eraser, mimicking how most pencils come with erasers on their reverse tip. The styluses also operated without batteries, allowing for hours of sketching without needing to charge the pen periodically.

The Wacom Cintiq Pro is anywhere between 5-8 times thicker than the 2024 iPad Pro

Cut to yesterday when Apple dropped the iPad Pro M4 and the comparison is incredibly stark. For starters, whenever anyone asks me whether they should buy an iPad or a Wacom, the answer is almost always the former… because when you’re not sketching on the Wacom, it’s useless, but when you’re not sketching on the iPad, it’s still an iPad. The difference seems even greater with the new iPad Pro being Apple’s thinnest device yet at just 5.1mm thick, while the 16-inch Wacom Cintiq is a whopping 25mm thick – 5 times thicker than its competitor. Cut to the larger 22-inch Cintiq and it’s a staggering 40mm thick, or the equivalent of 8 iPad Pros stacked one on top of the other.

However, a hardware comparison between a trillion-dollar electronics giant and Wacom, that’s valued at just half a billion dollars doesn’t seem fair. What does seem fair, however, is to just look at one singular product to see how far Apple’s outpaced its competition – the humble stylus. Wacom played a critical role in perfecting its EMR stylus technology, which was game-changing a decade or so ago. The pens ran without batteries, could sense pressure and tilt with stunning accuracy, and an eraser on the rear, becoming the creative industry’s go-to for digital sketching. When Apple debuted the Pencil, it had the same features except without any buttons. The Pencil 2, on the other hand, got a tap feature that let you swap between brush and eraser, and a unique charging mechanism that allowed you to charge your stylus simply by snapping it to the side of an iPad (it subsequently also got a hover function with newer iPad models). Apple’s newly announced Pencil Pro, which dropped yesterday, however, is an entirely different beast.

The new Pencil Pro has the hover function, lets you squeeze to activate a quick menu, and even supports barrel rolls that allow you to rotate brushes or objects simply by rotating your stylus. In true Apple fashion, it doesn’t have any buttons on it, but you can still tap to alternate between brush and eraser, and you even get a brush preview when your stylus is near the screen, letting you know how your brush is oriented. If all that wasn’t enough, the new Pencil Pro even packs Apple’s Find My feature, letting you locate a lost pencil through your iPad or iPhone.

The Pencil Pro can be squeezed to activate a quick menu

A great stylus on the iPad Pro, which already comes with an industry-leading chip, laptop-grade performance, a brilliant camera setup and LiDAR sensor, and an app store, basically makes the iPad or Wacom question moot. The only true advantage Wacom’s tablets have at this point is that they’re bigger than iPads, starting at 16 inches and maxing out at 27 inches diagonally. They also cost MUCH more than the iPad Pros, with the Cintiq Pro 16″ starting at $1599, and the Cintiq Pro 27″ having an eye-watering $3499 price tag. That’s Vision Pro territory for a sketching tablet.

The haptic motor gives you feedback when you squeeze the Pencil Pro

There still is a market for Wacom products. They’re massive, preferred by the hardcore animation and visual industries, and are platform-agnostic, which means you can easily run Windows or Linux programs on them, which most power users will appreciate over being limited to the iPadOS. But for the most part, the iPad Pro and Pencil Pro are so far ahead of their competition at this point, that they’ve made Wacom’s tablets (an already niche creative-focused gadget) even more niche… almost to the point of obscure.