Apple Pencil could gain optical sensors to sample surface color and texture

An unreleased third-generation Apple Pencil featuring optical sensors for detecting a surface’s color and texture has been detailed in a patent filing.

Closeup showcasing the end of Apple Pencil with branding, with a blurred iPad Pro in the background
The Apple Pencil stylus was last updated in 2018 | Image: Daniel Korpai/Unsplash
  • What’s happening? A new patent application hints at an unreleased Apple Pencil stylus that could integrate optical sensors, which the current models lack.
  • Why care? The new sensor would enable users to sample not only the color of a surface but also its texture and possibly other visual measurements.
  • Why care? The current second-generation model has yet to be updated since 2018, so this filing is a good indication of what’s next for the Apple Pencil.

Third-generation Apple Pencil surfaces in a patent filing

Patent drawings showcasing an Apple Pencil with an optical sensor for sampling surface color and texture
The next Apple Pencil could offer optical sensors | Image: USPTO/Apple

PatentlyApple unearthed Apple’s patent application filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) under the US number 20220413636 A1.

Titled “Electronic Device With Optical Sensor For Sampling Surfaces,” the document on the USPTO website outlines a possible third-generation Apple Pencil stylus featuring a built-in light detector capable of sensing color and a light emitter.

The system would permit the user to sample the color and texture of a surface scanned with the tip of a future Apple Pencil. The device would then send those measurements wirelessly to a companion device such as an iPad. Drawing software running on a companion device could leverage information about sampled color and other attributes to improve the experience of using Apple Pencil.

Prior patent filings have suggested that a third-generation Apple Pencil might provide enhancements like simulating surface textures with haptic feedback and scanning objects in 3D space. Read: How to fix iPhone haptic feedback not working

Apple Pencil is ripe for a refresh

For what it’s worth, Apple frequently patents technological ideas as a defensive strategy though some of its protected inventions end up in actual products.

Regarding when Apple might update its stylus, it shouldn’t be before 2024. While the current second-generation Apple Pencil arrived in 2018, the company will probably tie the next stylus refresh to its first OLED iPads, which are expected in 2024.