How the iPad Pro with Pencil Maps to the Desktop Publishing Revolution of the Past

I met with Steve Jobs two days after he came back to Apple in 1997. At the time, Apple was in serious trouble and I asked him how he planned to bring Apple back to health. He told me the first thing he planned to do was to go back and take care of the needs of their core customers. He defined these customers as graphics professionals, publishers and engineers. He felt the CEOs before him had let those customers down by not advancing the Mac platform.

What the Mac is particularly good at is things like desktop publishing, graphics design and engineering tasks and it was viewed by this audience as an important tool to help them get their jobs done better and faster. When I saw the new iPad Pro, my mind went back to this conversation with Steve and I could see his influence in this new product. With the addition of their Pencil stylus and the iPad Pro’s ability to use it at the pixel level, the iPad Pro is the kind of tool artists, graphics designers and engineers will love. It gives them a level of control over their projects in precise ways that should make their jobs easier.

I also see an iPad Pro link to the desktop publishing revolution of the past. I worked on the DTP project for Apple in the mid 1980s and saw first hand how a tools, in this case, the Mac, Pagemaker and a laser printer, could revolutionize an industry and eventually go mainstream. Interestingly, when Pagemaker was released and it caught the attention of graphics designers, publishers and those who did newsletters, most of us assumed this would be a niche market. But, as history shows, the concept of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) eventually moved to word processors, spreadsheets and many other programs where layout and design was important to all types of projects. In fact, one could argue the principles of DTP, as laid out by Apple, drive the design of Web pages and many apps too.

With the iPad Pro and Pencil, Apple gives these same customers Jobs wanted to serve when he came back to Apple in 1997 another set of tools that will dramatically impact their workflow. In fact, the presenter from Adobe at last week’s event stated using Adobe Tools designed to work with Pencil meant people can now do things they could not even do on a PC. For these users, this is a big deal. I talked to some graphics designers after the Apple event and they are salivating over this product. They can now toss out their Wacom tablets and work directly on a large screen and interact with and manipulate their drawings, designs and engineering projects at the pixel level, which ultimately gives them more control of their designs or projects.

At first glance, one would think that, like DTP in the beginning, this is a niche market and only design professionals would be the target audience for the iPad Pro given the level of control Apple delivers with this new iPad. However, I learned early on the power of Apple to influence a market and, just as DTP eventually moved down to mainstream productivity tools like word processors and the like, I think this new form of input, as delivered by iPad Pro/Pencil integration, has broader ramifications for the overall PC industry. Indeed, we got a glimpse of that from the Microsoft demo during Apple’s launch event. Microsoft showed how a person could draw three circles and they quickly snapped to a clean digital implementation in the form of a chart. Even a simple arrow became a clean digital one for inclusion in a document. But I see this as the tip of the iceberg for how the role of a stylus will play in even mainstream productivity tools over time. A side note here – Bill Gates actually saw this vision in the early 1990s and he called it “Pen Computing”. But it looks like Apple will finally deliver the actual tablet/stylus package Gates envisioned and drive its impact into the broader market, something that was a key part of Bill’s vision back then.

Of course, using a stylus with a tablet has been around for years. One of the best and one I use myself is the recently launched Jot Dash by Adonis.

But none of the styli on the market today delivers the level of precise control Apple gives iPad Pro users with the Pencil. Today we may think a generic stylus is good enough to deliver similar input and design control and, in some cases, that may be true. But the thing that made the Mac great in 1985 is Apple introduced the GUI to computing and then made an SDK for developers to create apps for the Mac. The result was Pagemaker and thousands of other apps that could harness the power of the Mac to deliver great new apps. Yes, the PC guys caught up by 1989-1990 and perhaps this time, if they really understand what Apple has done with redesigning the iPad Pro to work with this specially designed Pencil stylus, they could respond to this competitive threat faster.

Apple delivers their own special SDK tools for third-party developers to create apps to make it more useful. That means we could see some really great apps for the pro users but mainstream business and perhaps even consumers may get new applications that are Pencil-compatible that will help Apple drive the iPad Pro to a broader audience.

I am not saying Apple’s use of a special stylus with the iPad Pro may have the same impact DTP has had on the market although, from my viewpoint, it does map what we did in DTP in the 1980s. On the other hand, if the software developers create apps that really take advantage of the hardware/software solution the iPad Pro and Pencil deliver together, I could see it influencing the broader use of a pen with tablets beyond traditional input and navigation. It will be fascinating to see if a “Pagemaker for Pencil” comes out or what else the creative app makers deliver for this new tablet/stylus platform.

Even though Steve Jobs’ team is delivering on his idea, Gates has to feel a bit vindicated at this point. He called Pen Computing the future of computing and, up to now, a pen has been more of a tablet peripheral. But if Apple makes the iPad Pro with Pencil successful, perhaps his pen computing vision will be fulfilled, even if it takes Apple to make it happen.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

82 thoughts on “How the iPad Pro with Pencil Maps to the Desktop Publishing Revolution of the Past”

  1. I think there were two side-effects to targeting designers: a) those are not tech people, and b) they’re fashion/design-conscious. That mapped perfectly to what was needed to break computers out of the IT department / ugly-tool-I-have-to-use mindset.

    Though that worked exceedingly well then, I’m not sure we’re in the same situation today. Indeed, Apple seem to be trying to go the other way round, from non-techie fashion-conscious to techie function-driven. We’ll see if using designers as a bridge the other way round will still work…

    1. I think you give creatives an extremely short shrift. It is not about “looks” and being fashion conscious. It is about technology getting between their creative well and actual creating. That’s why many creative people shun technology in general, even more so Windows. It is both a physical and mental hinderance.


      1. You’re right, I took a huge shortcut. My point is precisely because it’s about creativity, creative types are about the furthest from IT/accountant/secretarial types who’ll jump through hoops to satisfy a tool. I’m not judging, and I actually think that’s perfectly justified: better a good design on paper than a bad design on computer (as opposed to accounting or event planning… that better be on the network, and if putting the info there is half the work, that’s nowhere near as detrimental as breaking a creative flow).

        I do stand by my contention that they also pay more attention to the aesthetic design of their tools, if only as a indicator that the functional design will be good too, but probably not only.

        1. I think “aesthetic” is the better way to put it, by definition, because that word implies what is also important to creatives, inspiration. That is one thing Apple products do better than any other creative technology out there. They inspire.


          1. All enabling technologies inspire, Apple’s contribution is in UI. Can you say the PC, even under DOS, didn’t inspire? For me, panacea would be the perfect UI, with broadest and most powerful features.

          2. “Can you say the PC, even under DOS, didn’t inspire?”

            For the creative fields in discussion, absolutely 100% yes.


          3. And Windows broadened that appeal by playing into the UI benefits. Still, there were considerable DOS based programs for creatives at the time. Apple simply provided the best, again at the time. Not too long ago, when Apple was sick, Windows creative programs were beating the Macintosh versions. There are legions of Apple fans (anecdotally) that are still mad at Adobe for that reason.

          4. Photographers, graphic artists, and videographers don’t have sole license on being considered “creatives”. Many a novel and poem and lyrics were written under DOS. Many a bridge and building. Are they not “creatives”?

          5. I think “many” overstates it in both your examples. And I certainly do include those fields as creatives. And I doubt DOS, or the hardware that ran it, inspired ANYTHING “created”.


          6. No machine has the individual’s creativity “in it”, it just helps to bring it out. It’s a tool.

          7. Oh, I don’t know. In real life I’m considered quite creative, both personally and professionally. Not a boast, just my rep.

          8. I’ll chime in that both of you are probably right. Some artists make statues with wood, others with concrete. Some write music with instruments, others with mathematical equations.

          9. Neither AutoCAD nor WordPerfect dispel anything I’ve said, including that you misunderstand what inspires and motivates creatives.


          10. If I were an architect, I could almost be offended if credit for my masterpiece goes to the tools I used, rather than to my own vision. Creatives will create, even if they have to draw buffalo on cave walls using a cow’s udder.

          11. As my last comment on this, I suggest you do an experiment. For the next year or two take up some art form—painting, sculpture, pottery, music, even writing. After regular practice for that year or two (including actually making something, not just practice) if you can tell me that you never find inspiration from particular materials you use or a particular instrument you play, to either continue creating or creating something in particular, then you can tell me you are offended by the suggestion that your tools inspire creativity.


          12. The computer is NOT the material. It’s not the steel, wood, cloth, concrete, or words. It’s a tool at arriving at them.

          13. No, it’s been 40 that I play an instrument. I design structures, and have crafted consumer products for 30 years.

          14. I’d like to butt in here with an analogy that may help.
            DOS was the ‘baggage’ I had to carry around in order to create anything on the PC. Yes, it was a tool but took much of my creative time away with it’s difficulty.
            Example: Back in the DOS era I had problems with a new sound card that had to have a printer plugged in and turned on before the sound card would work. (!?)
            It was as if I were a painter that had to weave the canvas, create all the paint and brushes before I could even start to make a painting.
            Computers now get more out of the way and let me create. The iPad Pro and Pencil are even closer to this dream in my opinion.

          15. DOS was baggage that ran AutoCAD. A very complex program, intended for use by skilled operators. DOS was irrelevant, AutoCAD was relevant, and fostered MUCH creative design.

          16. Having come up through the ranks with AutoCAD, I can say with authority your characterization of AutoCAD “fostering” creative design is so far off the mark, again I am stunned, but not surprised, you continue to make such comments.


          17. AutoCAD, particularly in DOS days, was not a design tool. It was a drafting tool. The two are not the same.


          18. “Creatives” is a term borrowed from the advertising industry. It most directly maps to copywriters, art director and illustrators. I’ve always felt it rather reductive – similar to the use of “content” to describe anything from catalog copy to Shakespeare.

          19. If you to speak etymologically, “creative” was borrowed from The Bible. For millennia it was a term used solely in association with God.

            These days I would say “creatives” has broadened its scoop to be difficult to define. In this discussion I take it to mean what you offer as well as artists at large, at least as presented by the NEA, which covers more than just the fine arts. Considering Apple’s philosophy and the focus of the article, I think this is an accurate representation.


    2. Just because something isn’t ugly and tasteless doesn’t mean it’s “fashion”. In fact it’s the opposite, the ugly and tasteless items are generally “fashion”.
      Obviously you find fashion irritating and for idiots, so do I, but wtf has that to do with Apple?
      Producing ugly products is anathema to Apple, but their beauty is far more than Skin deep. Ever looked inside an Apple product? Even the circuit boards are worthy of display. They’re also Designed to be most efficient in all respects. HTC and Sony (frequently Sony) have made some attractive products, but they’re obviously wasted on the android brigade as both are tanking. Maybe the clash between the product and the interface is too jarring.
      Funny how you think actual “tech” people have no taste.

      1. I did say fashion-design the first time.
        There’as a specific fashion issue though: pro-IT “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” has morphed into “nobody ever got mocked for buying Apple”. That’s where the fashion side comes up: the issue is not design, it’s branding.
        I’ve looked at teardowns of a number a tech gizmos… they’re all the same, see attached pics.
        Tech people have more sense than thinking taste = brand ?

  2. The Pencil video made the claim that this stylus was in a class by itself for smoothness, immediacy, and fine control even hinting that iPad Pro with Pencil might become a new artistic medium.

    Any comparative first day reports on this claim?

      1. By all accounts, such advantages are becoming less transient.

        Apple has a virtuous cycle, with sales directly rewarding efforts to bring technologies into new products (like more precise touch-sensitivity for pencil vs finger). And Apple is increasing its expertise in a number of fields: ARM SoC, screen technology, batteries, materials, etc.

        Whereas others are engaged in more competition with each other, hardware and software advancements can’t progress hand in hand, everyone’s waiting on everyone else; and there is a general race to the bottom effect. If there is a down-turn in the tablet market, it is disproportionately affecting Apple’s competitors.

        1. Android OEMs are very skilled at catching up then overtaking. Early on, Apple had among the best screen, the best camera, the only worthy finger ID… Now they’re trailing on the first two, equalized on the third. Even on design, for those who care, new Androids are arguably more beautiful/luxurious/trendy (and sturdy, but that they’ve always been).

          If the Apple Pencil proves better than its forerunners, and if that proves an issue (2 big ifs), I’m sure other OEMs will focus on that.

          I’m puzzled by the race to the bottom argument. Large tablets with pens came first to Android and Windows, on nicely specced machines. That’s race to the bottom ?

          1. “Android OEMs are very skilled at catching up then overtaking.”

            Not least with each other, being as how they use the same OS and source many of the same parts. A “race to the bottom” implies that there is little to choose between them and they must compete primarily on price. It has nothing to do with being first at anything.

            “Now they’re trailing on the first two, equalized on the third.” Hmm, that sounds like a gross over-simplification. I am sure Apple trails on spec sheets when looking at pixel counts. But OEM’s sales are not justifying their pushing the boundaries on image sensor noise, lens elements, buffering, glass and touch sensor layering, etc.

            You can look at a spec sheet about the camera, or you can look at the photos. You can look at the spec sheet about the screen, or you can see the delight people find in 3D touch, in the differentiation the OS makes in types of touch and multiple points of touch, and in the how the OS interprets or predicts intention, etc.

            Again, you see numbers on paper, and refuse to consider any “intangible” qualities; you constantly lump them all together and snarkily dismiss them as fashion/marketing. Yet they are felt and do contribute to user experience and satisfaction. That’s a large part of why you are “puzzled” by everything Apple-related.

          2. The race to the bottom begins with the addition of features, speeds, and feeds to maintain price. After that, the price drops. But there are still tiers of pricing. The consumer has more choice, thus the consumer wins. Would it harm you if you could get the exact same iPad for $200? Apple does this by selling past models.

          3. ” Would it harm you if you could get the exact same iPad for $200?”

            Would people pay $400 instead of $200, if they thought they were buying the exact same device?

          4. Apple actually has a very simple and sustainable business model. For example, they have a single P&L centre/statement (as covered extensively by Horace Dediu).

            They sell older models at lower prices because:
            1) those models have already played their part, over the first year or two of their lives, to cover fixed costs like R&D and tooling.
            2) They are still desirable and usable products that are still in demand.

            Both 1 and 2 are largely out of reach for most OEMs. A “race to the bottom” revolves to a large degree around commodity components. With Android, even the OS acts like a commodity component.

            Apple has done a good job of differentiating many of its components by designing them exclusively for itself. Its customers appreciate the qualities these components bring to its products.

            For many of the OEMs (and Google and Microsoft), it is not clear how sustainable their business models are, nor how committed they are to individual products, because much is obfuscated in their accounting.

        2. All active styli have a huge advantage over finger. I hope competitors up their game on this, and I’m basing this hope on Apple having provided the competitive stimulus, if indeed they did.

  3. I have active styli from Dell, HP, and MS on their respective pen enabled machines. They are a huge leap in capability from non-active styli, but still not quite “there”.

    I presume you’ve used the Apple Stylus and some of the others I mentioned (certainly the SP3). How does the Apple stylus compare?

    Do competing writing implements not make artists, graphic designers, and engineers jobs easier?

    1. These other styli to help them. But Apple’s Pencil working with the new iPad Pro let them work at the individual pixel level which gives the greater control of their drawings…this is the only combo that delivers that layer of precision.

      1. More concerned about latency, my hand isn’t pixel precise. Kind of like all these “beyond retina” screens we have to day. Still, thank you.

    2. One of the things the Apple demo folks encouraged you to try with the pencil was to write your name super small, as small as you could. It was unbelievable how well this worked. It is literally as good as writing on paper. And the palm rejection worked better than any active stylus solution I’ve used yet.

  4. The problem with digital creation in general, and has been particularly awful with a stylus is latency. Artists specifically work with materials that give them instant feedback, whether pencil on paper, a musical instrument, or even the view finder of a camera. Once digital technology enters the picture (so to speak) even the most minute delay is noticeable at the hands of someone who has worked with material for so long they have a developed feel for response of the material.

    Sadly, even though Pencil appears to have done an admirable job reducing that delay, it still does not eliminate it, as is obvious in even Adobe’s video demo.

    What Pagemaker and DTP brought to the table was instant and replicable feedback on layout decisions in the form most layout professionals were used to working in.

    The iPad Pro and Pencil may be better than what came before, but effectively it is the same.


    1. You do have to go somewhat slow, but it’s better than not at all.
      Annotation, schematics, writing mathematical and scientific equations are so much easier with a stylus, even now.
      I was truly hoping the iPad could “keep up” with negligible latency, but such is tech.

  5. “He defined these customers as graphics professionals, publishers and engineers”

    Okay, I have to ask. What engineers? Maybe I am being too literal here, but with a brother who is a chemical engineer I can’t think of any engineering field that used Macs. They were all Unix and DOS/Windows.


    1. Also in 1985 PCs were DOS based or textual only. The Mac introduced a GUI and that alone was revolutionary..but add Pagemaker and other graphics tools and the engineering community responded. In fact it changed how they did engineering documentation as they could now draw actual designs images in the docs themselves.

    2. Go visit the Bechtel page and see what real engineers do with iPads .
      I used iPad in petrochem construction to check out 5,000 instrument loops, with all the loop drawings and isos on my iPad. Those of us who make big bucks are willing to pay for the tools that do the job.

    3. I’m not just trying to disagree with you, but I’ve seen many science (video) stories where they’re demonstrating/displaying material on Macs or they’re background in labs. Don’t you remember all the MacBooks at the Mars Rover mission control during the landing stream?

  6. I think Apple has a great vision for the iPad, however I agree with Ben Thompson (@monkbent) that App Store policies may make it very difficult for 3rd parties to make money building software for the iPad. Need the ability to do trials, have upgrade pricing, etc.

    1. Or, better yet, open up to other stores…
      Censorship issues aside, competition is good, such as another store offering what you suggest.

      1. Good points. I don’t mean to be prescriptive about the solution(s), but rather to point out that Apple has made it difficult for 3rd-party developers for iPad to have a sustainable business model.

        1. “Apple has made it difficult for 3rd-party developers for iPad to have a sustainable business model.”

          I’m having a hard time subscribing to this statement as an authoritative truth. The iPad is the ONLY tablet on the market with a supremely robust ecosystem. Neither Android or Windows can match the level of quality tablet-specific apps available for the iPad. Not even close.

          I suppose it depends on how you define “sustainable business model”.

          1. While I agree that Ben Thompson’s perspective is interesting, he provides very few examples and hardly any evidence. His opinion is hardly authoritative.

            Ben Thompson essentially says that more freedom in the App Store would encourage developers to create more complex apps. While this could be true, I would also say that the highly capable iPad Pro with the Pencil will strongly encourage developers to create apps that are similar to Paper by 53, regardless of the current restrictions in the App Store. Indeed, Adobe seems to have already done just that.

            Ben Thompson’s idea is one approach. The iPad Pro is another. The iPad Pro’s approach has at least succeeded in wooing Adobe. It’ll be interesting to see if others will follow.

          2. Is the Adobe iPad Pro app part of the Creative Cloud Suite? If it is, then it would seem that developing any app would have little risk. The development of an app is another check mark for what Creative Cloud offers. So, for others to follow, would they need to subscribe to a subscription model and also not just be an app development shop, but a full software suite business?

          3. Looking at the prices featured software in the App Store, it doesn’t look like the ones with subscription models are the only ones to succeed. So to answer your question, I see no evidence of that.

          4. I have read of cases of successful Mac developers, with applications that would go well on iPads, who because of the lack of trials and upgrades, were unwilling to invest the substantial effort necessary to port the apps to iPad.

          5. Sure, but there are also cases of Mac developers who have made applications for the iPad and seem to be doing well. Software from the Omni Group for example, sells for $30 and more.

            Some are complaining, some seem to be doing OK.

          6. I don’t think it’s about prices, I think it’s about revenue: with the tablet market slowing down sharply, once you’ve sold your app to all your potential customers, what next ? This happens slowly for general-public apps and games, but for niche apps, I’m sure some devs are seeing down revenues.
            The “one invoice per customer over a lifetime” model worked well for a new, strongly growing market. Apple have decided their software is a freebie because you must pay for their hardware to use it, and it helps with lock-in. Other devs don’t have that alternate revenue source, and don’t even book revenue when someone upgrades their tablet, not even if they start using the app on several devices under the same user account. I don’t think that’s viable long-term, especially for high-end niche apps.

          7. It’s easy to nitpick, find things that aren’t working, and put the blame on those. In some rare cases, you might actually find some things that are worth fixing, but in many cases (if not the vast majority), this approach will lead you to bark up the wrong tree. This is not a constructive way to discuss. Alas, this is how many people, including those who have made their names on the Internet as famous pundits, tend to build their logic.

            You need to look more broadly. How about looking at the developers who are succeeding and seem to be doing so with a relatively high price? How about looking at the state of the tablet market and analysing whether your customers actually do use tablets for productivity and creative work? What if the vast majority of tablet users only use it for leisure, and don’t do any work on it? Then the assumption that you would be able to money on productivity/creativity apps if it weren’t for idiotic policies on the App Store, breaks down, despite a much larger installed base compared to Macs.

            There are so many other explanations for why developers are having a hard time on the iPad (even if that statement is true to begin with). The assumption that the App Store policies must be to blame is so logically shortsighted.

            Companies that have analysed usage habits of tablets have unanimously found that they are mostly used during leisure hours. We know from data given by Ben and others that video watching is a huge activity, possibly dominant, especially on Android tablets. This suggests that even if the App Store had optimal revenue generating options, very few people would buy productivity/creativity apps anyway because they didn’t buy a tablet for that purpose to begin with.

            I’m not saying that I know why app developers may have a problem. However, I do want to say that you should try to look a bit more broadly and deeply if you really want to get to the heart of the problem.

            And seriously, after listening to Ben Thompson’s podcast and hearing him use his diagrams drawn by Paper (by 53) as the prime example of apps that should be able to make more money on the App Store, I seriously think he should change his example. His diagrams are accepted because that’s his signature. Nobody else would however use such rough sketches for serious presentations or blog posts.

    2. You’re correct, but I think the success of the app largely depends on its uniqueness. In other words, a decent price can be set for a good enough app, and this idea should take off with the iPad Pro as large software corporations begin to take the iPad platform more seriously.

      This is pure speculation, but what I think could happen with iPad Pro specific apps is that prices could climb higher for those apps that are offered by top tier companies, or even by newcomers offering apps with certain innovations. To put things in perspective, there are many technical/engineering applications out there that cost $50K+ per license. If these are somehow successfully ported to the iPad Pro (and there is a great chance of this), these companies may decide to provide a lower cost of entry along with in-app purchases to cherry-pick various advanced features. The prime example would be any circuit board schematic capture and layout suite. Apple Pencil will enable ports of some very sophisticated professional applications/apps to the iPad Pro. I’d love to have access to modular Mentor Graphics programs on the iPad Pro, for example.

  7. Thanks Joe! You’re spot on. Back in the late 90’s with the advent of OS X, the promise of Acrobat screen rendering was a deal breaker for me. I immediately understood it would make creating and handling PDF’s, the next printing standard, a lot more accurate and easier. One of the attentions to detail that would make Macs a better tools for creative pros.

  8. “Microsoft showed how a person could draw three circles and they quickly snapped to a clean digital implementation in the form of a chart. Even a simple arrow became a clean digital one for inclusion in a document.”

    None of the above is magical or amazing to anyone who has used an Apple Newton. These sorts of assisted drawing tools were daily fare back then. I grant that the old resistive screen, and the entire platform is archaic by today’s terms, but assisted and powerful pen computing did exist before the iPad Pro and Pencil, and it is delightful, in a way, to see that ancient well-before-its-time system vindicated in some small way. 🙂

    1. Funny how the Newton gets ignored or dismissed. I had a friend at IBM who did internal training around the world whose favorite device was the 2000 series and OS of choice were Nixes, as well as finding Windows unpleasant, but obviously necessary for some of his work. He found the concept of IBM “compatible” amusing or ironic as it was usually a particular model or series from one brand with very specific components. Sound familiar? Funnily they tended to have short lifespans before bits changed, then another was anointed “compatible”.
      I wonder if Ive was involved with the Newton, I just can’t remember if it came up in any of his recent interviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *