Apple patents a next-generation Pen with an Optical Sensor that can pick real-life colors and textures

Apple took the dropper tool and made it a reality.

Have you ever seen a beautiful mural on a wall and felt you could capture those colors for your own art? Sure, you can carry a Pantone shadow book wherever you go…or if Apple has it the way, you can just tap your Apple Pencil onto the mural and capture the color like a real-life eyedropper tool. Apple recently filed a patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a next-generation Apple Pencil with built-in optical sensors that capture not only colors but also textures. A complex set of technologies built into the tip of the Apple Pencil help transform it into more than just a pencil. Rather than simply being a note-taking and art creation tool, the Pen will now help you gather inspiration and allow you to create your own bank of tones and textures to use as reference material in your projects.

Designer/Visualizer: Sarang Sheth

The way the new Apple Pencil works is theoretically simple – according to the patent drawings, the nib has a light sensor and a light emitter inside. The transmitter and sensor work together to assist with color and texture sampling when you touch the Pen to any surface. The way it works is no different than your mouse, which uses a light emitter and optical sensor to track movement. The only major difference is that the Pencil can also function as a stylus for your iPad.


The patent was discovered by the elites at Patently Apple, who reported that this technology could be used to detect even metrics other than hue and texture. How this would work seems a bit sketchy at best – do you need to have the iPad handy while using the Apple Pencil’s sampling feature? Where is all data saved? How to change this feature, as you have to tap the Pen on the iPad’s touchscreen to use it as a pen?

For now, this next-gen feature only exists as a patent, and even more than 4 years after Apple announced the Pencil Gen 2, it’s unclear whether Apple plans to radically redesign the stylus. Including a patent filed in early 2021 for removable custom nibs that give your pen a more artistic approach, and a recent patent for a Pen with a rotating element on the top and multiple touch-sensitive areas on its body. What new feature do you want in the next generation Apple Pencil?

Patent Images via Patented Apple
Stylus Concept visualizations via Sarang Sheth

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