iPad Pro breakthrough just leaked — no tablet has ever done this

iPad Pro and iPadOS Tutorial
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Pencil was already the best iPad Pro accessory for budding digital artists, but a new patent suggests it could become a whole lot more useful in the not-so-distant future.

Rather than having to pick out your colors manually on screen, the patent imagines an Apple Pencil with photodetectors built in. That means you could point your new Apple Pencil at something in the real world – a shade of paint, say, or a flower – and instantly have the color available to doodle with on screen. 

“The color sensor may have a plurality of photodetectors each of which measures light for a different respective color channel,” the patent reads. “The color sensor may also have one or more light-emitting devices. Control circuitry may use the light-emitting devices to illuminate an external object while using the photodetectors to measure reflected light to determine the color of the external object.” 

An image from the patent for Apple Pencil technology

(Image credit: Apple Patent)

While the patent is brand new – filed in November 2019, and only published on Thursday – we perhaps shouldn’t get too excited that a brand new Apple Pencil is just around the corner. Apple files a whole lot of patents – over 2,500 in the last year alone – and not all of them see the light of day. In fact, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that Apple filed a similar patent six years ago, and we still haven’t seen the tech utilized in any obvious way.     

Still, the usefulness of being able to extract colors from the real world is pretty obvious, and it would be nice to see the Apple Pencil getting an upgrade. There are currently two generations, with the newer model being firmly “evolution” rather than “revolution”. It added wireless charging, a flat edge to stop it rolling away and some simple gesture commands. Both remain on sale, because each Pencil is compatible with a different set of iPads.

Other innovations on the way for the iPad Pro include a Mini-LED display, which will supposedly offer all of the benefits of OLED without the threat of burn-in. You'd get the same great contrast ratio and truer black tones, as well as higher brightness. Mini-LEDs accomplish this by using smaller LEDs (light emitting diodes), as their name suggests, to power the backlights in displays.

In late June the iPad Pro with Mini LED display was reportedly entering trial production, which means it would launch at the end of this year at the earliest. But there's no telling whether this Apple Pencil breakthrough will be ready in time.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.