The most recent beta of iOS 9.3 has removed the important functionality for the Apple Pencil: the ability to use the stylus accessory as a finger replacement to select options and menus in apps, swipe between apps, tap on buttons and use the Pencil for general navigational purposes throughout iOS.
If Apple does not change its mind and re-add this functionality in a final version of iOS 9.3, people who rely on the Pencil to edit content on their iPad Pro will be forced to use their hand to select tools in apps like Pixelmator, for example, marking a major usability regression.
As first noted by MacRumors, the disturbing feature removal which limits the Pencil’s functionality has enraged users who have grown accustomed to using the stylus for navigational purposes.
“Sources in the know confirm that removing the functionality of the Apple Pencil is a decision inside of Apple. It is not a bug they have overlooked for three betas. It is a decision,” according to a recent podcast by Relay.fm co-founder Myke Hurley.
MacStories founder Federico Viticci suspects as much, writing that “this is starting to feel like a conscious decision on Apple’s part”.
Serenity Caldwell, who wrote a series of in-depth article about the various aspects of the Pencil, opined in a post over at iMore.com that Apple should not remove any of the devices’ existing capabilities.
“The fact remains that the Pencil’s owners use those navigation options, and frankly, the idea that Apple would take away functionality that people have come to expect and depend on is a significant hit to usability and overall experience,” according to Caldwell.
The author underscores that the latest beta renders the Pencil virtually useless for tasks like editing videos in iMovie for iOS.
“It makes the Pencil useless for video and audio editing, creative pursuits that I’d hoped to explore further on the iPad Pro,” reads the opinion piece.
“I’d initially enjoyed editing and cutting several videos in iMovie for iOS with the help of the Pencil; now, you can only select and drag clips. You can’t cut a clip with the downward swipe gesture, nor can you scroll the timeline.”
We should not jump to any conclusions yet because features some time disappear from iOS betas only to be re-added in the last minute. That being said, and with Apple’s rumored March 15 event looming on the horizon and iOS 9.3 release being just around the corner, I’m afraid the software update will in fact make the Pencil less useful than it is now.