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Recent iPad Pro mini-scandal shows Apple is serious about keeping users happy

Published Feb 26th, 2016 4:32PM EST
Apple Pencil

For all of the claims that Apple’s software has been on the decline and that the company downright ignores user complaints, a recent saga involving Apple Pencil functionality underscores that Apple does, in fact, take the opinions of its users into account.

A few days ago, a number of iPad Pro users who had been using a beta version of iOS 9.3 began reporting that the software frustratingly removed Apple Pencil functionality that was previously available in earlier incarnations of iOS. Specifically, these users discovered that the latest iOS 9.3 beta limits Apple Pencil operations to scenarios where drawing is supported or digital buttons can be pressed. In earlier versions of iOS, iPad Pro users were able to use the Apple Pencil to scroll through webpages, swipe between apps, and even select and manipulate text. In other words, the Apple Pencil was being used as a digital finger of sorts.

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When word of this began to spread, there was initially a question as to whether or not this was a bug that needed to be ironed out or if it was a conscious move on Apple’s part.

Addressing that, it wasn’t long before Myke Hurley relayed the following on the Cortex podcast:

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.

Naturally, the move sparked a lot of blowback from iPad Pro users. How, they wondered, was Apple still doing stuff like this in 2016? Why would the company even think about removing a feature and input method that users derived a lot of utility from and seemingly enjoyed?

While it’s entirely possible that Apple never intended or perhaps even envisioned that users would use the Apple Pencil as a navigation tool, it was clear that many users enjoyed using the stylus as a digital figure. At the very least, many took the position that Apple could make the ‘feature’ something that could be toggled on or off via the Settings app.

As discord began to spread, Apple sprung into action. Whereas the company might have traditionally kept its head in the sand and ignored the issue, Apple this week quickly assessed the situation and issued a statement indicating that the functionality was going to come back.

In a statement provided to The Verge, Apple explained:

Apple Pencil has been a huge hit with iPad Pro users, who love it for drawing, annotating and taking notes. We believe a finger will always be the primary way users navigate on an iPad, but we understand that some customers like to use Apple Pencil for this as well and we’ve been working on ways to better implement this while maintaining compatibility during this latest beta cycle. We will add this functionality back in the next beta of iOS 9.3.

While this might usually be a non-story, I think it reflects that Apple does, in fact, listen to user complaints, something which was called into question a few weeks ago. Indeed, Apple executives Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi went so far as to appear on John Gruber’s podcast to respond to user criticism over a perception of declining software quality.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.