Apple Pencil 1

(Image credit: iMore)

A new patent hints toward a non-powered Apple Pencil that may work on iPhone, giving pen-style input control to the smartphone, but with design choices that could come with some caveats.

According to the US Patent Office, Apple filed to protect an invention design for the pen back in September 2023, and had it approved on April 11. Called ‘Photo-sensing enabled display for stylus detection’, its Abstract section essentially describes how a non-powered stylus would work on Apple’s devices. 

It details an “optical stylus system that includes an optical stylus and optical sensing system that are together operative at one or more of the target or touch location, centroid, hover distance, tilt angle, azimuth, and in some instances the orientation and rotation of the stylus is disclosed.”

The patent also features illustrations that clearly show an iPhone, an Apple Watch, a MacBook, and an iPad being used with this stylus. Having a non-powered Apple Pencil would be useful for many, as it wouldn’t need to be charged. Yet this would also mean that the stylus wouldn’t be able to have shortcut buttons, nor would it be able to have a ‘squeeze’ feature, which has been alluded to for the in-development Apple Pencil 3, spotted in code within the iPadOS 17.5 beta.

Way back in 2007, when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, he bemoaned the use of a stylus in other phones. “Who wants a stylus?!” he exclaimed. Almost 20 years later, it looks like Apple does.

You can buy a stylus for your iPhone right now

You can already buy a lot of Apple Pencil alternatives without waiting to see what Apple’s take on a battery-free stylus will be. You could argue that some of these accessories essentially describe the company’s patent — a non-powered stylus that can be used on iPad, as well as iPhone.

These can be great for tapping on the handset’s keyboard to write emails or browsing the web, which can be bought for a much lower price than Apple’s first-party options. It would make sense for Apple to bring out a new, non-powered Pencil at a lower price point — the cheapest you can currently buy from Apple is the Apple Pencil USB-C for $79 / £79.

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Having a new Pencil with no battery, priced below $50 / £50, would make it appealing to many, especially if it was marketed for use with an iPhone. Yes, it would go against Jobs’ idea of how people should use an iPhone — but we live in different times now. The App Store, introduced in 2008, has brought millions of apps to users many of which would work well with a stylus, especially in the Education and Productivity categories. Having a low-priced Apple Pencil could help those with accessibility needs for example, and could even work for games, similar to how a stylus would work with the Nintendo DS handheld.

For now, though, alternatives like the adonit Neo Duo will more than suffice — but don’t be surprised if this patent becomes a reality.

More from iMore

Daryl is iMore’s Features Editor, overseeing long-form and in-depth articles and op-eds. Daryl loves using his experience as both a journalist and Apple fan to tell stories about Apple’s products and its community, from the apps we use everyday to the products that have been long forgotten in the Cupertino archives.

Previously Software & Downloads Writer at TechRadar, and Deputy Editor at StealthOptional, he’s also written a book, ‘The Making of Tomb Raider‘, which tells the story of the beginnings of Lara Croft and the series’ early development. He’s also written for many other publications including WIRED, MacFormat, Bloody Disgusting, VGC, GamesRadar, Nintendo Life, VRV Blog, The Loop Magazine, SUPER JUMP, Gizmodo, Film Stories, TopTenReviews, Miketendo64 and Daily Star.

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