Here’s Why There Are So Many Apple Pencils
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Here’s Why There Are So Many Apple Pencils

With the new Apple Pencil Pro, there are now four different Pencil models, all of which are currently for sale, and all of which are compatible with a different subset of current and past iPad models. It’s an insane situation arrived at by a process of individually sensible steps. Today we’ll see how we got here, and what it says about the unexamined consequences of Apple’s tight hardware integration. 

All four Apple Pencils are repairability fails. We gave the 1st-generation pencil a 1/10 repairability score, and they haven’t gotten any better. None of them have replaceable batteries—so when the internal battery stops holding a charge all day, it’s expensive waste.

Shahram opens up an Apple Pencil Pro with a vise and ultrasonic cutter in our teardown video.

In fact, they’re so hard to open that we make sure to have bandages around when we’re getting inside. And this time, our Lead Teardown Technician Shahram sure needed them.

We bled to get this deep into an Apple Pencil Pro.

But worse, the fact that three of the four models aren’t compatible with all iPads means even more waste. People have to upgrade their Pencil if they want to upgrade their iPad. And if you want the new Apple Pencil Pro, with its pressure sensitivity feature, you might have to upgrade your iPad too. The differentiation between models is so complex that people might even create more waste by buying the wrong Pencil.

Pencil Case

Of course, Apple has a handy dandy chart for helping you figure out whether your Apple Pencil and iPad are mutually compatible. But we wouldn’t blame you for being confused.

Take a look at that screenshot from Apple’s store. Even the names are confusing and don’t help to determine which one you should buy. Only one Pencil is compatible with all current iPads, from the cheapest up to the latest M4 iPad Pro, and that’s the USB-C model. The downside is that it doesn’t support pressure sensitivity. 

Then there’s the 1st generation Apple Pencil, which doesn’t work with any of the current iPad models, although you can connect it to the cheapest iPad using a USB-C adapter.

The absurdity is exacerbated by Apple’s iPad naming scheme. Is your iPad Pro 12.9″ or 13″? Is it a 3rd, 4th, or 5th generation model? Great, but if it’s 11″ and the 5th generation, don’t call it that—it’s an iPad Pro M4 now. The Apple Pencil (2nd generation) works with iPad Pro 11″ (2nd generation) but not iPad Pro 13″ (2nd generation).

So how did we get here? The first Apple Pencil was easy. It worked with the iPad Pro, and it charged/paired by jabbing the Lightning plug on its rear end into the iPad, or by connecting it to a Lightning charger cable with a tiny, instantly-lost adapter. 

The Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) did away with the charging plug, and got its power from the iPad via induction when stuck to the new 2018 iPad Pro’s flat side with aligning magnets. This was the first iPad with a USB-C port, so the Lightning Pencil would not work with it. 

So far so good, and one might have expected that first Apple Pencil to disappear now that the only iPad to support it was discontinued. But in 2019, Apple launched the 3rd-gen iPad Air and 5th-gen iPad mini, both of which still used a Lightning connector and supported the original Apple Pencil. Eventually the low-end iPads also picked up Pencil support, so that original Pencil stuck around and is still around today.

Then, Apple finally switched the entry-level iPad to USB-C, but it did not immediately make a compatible Apple Pencil. Instead, you had to use the original Lightning Pencil with an adapter. Then came the USB-C Pencil, which works with any iPad with a USB-C port but lacks some advanced features.

Are you with us so far? That was the situation until last week. We had the 1st-gen Lightning Pencil still around because people were perhaps still buying old-stock Lightning iPads, and also there are plenty of Lightning iPads still in the education system. 

Now we add the Apple Pencil Pro to that lineup. It costs the same $129 as the 2nd-gen Pencil, which remains on sale. 

The new Pencil Pro only works with the brand new M4 iPads Pro and M2 iPads Air. These iPads have their front-facing cameras on the long edge of the iPad, instead of on the top, so the induction-charging circuitry has been modified to accommodate this. You might be able to get your old magnetic Pencil 2 to stick, but it won’t charge or pair, according to the information we have so far. 

So that’s why we have four Apple Pencils, and why all of them are still on sale in Apple’s stores. If you want a chuckle, head over to the Apple Pencil info and store pages to see Apple’s attempts at explaining the features, functions, and compatibility of each pencil with each iPad. 


Apple is known for its integrated hardware and software, and its “just works” mantra. One of the reasons it can move so quickly to add big new features is because it controls the entire stack, from top to bottom. Its camera app, for example, relies on the machine-learning power of its Neural Engine to enable Portrait Mode, Night Mode, person-recognition, and so on. 

The advantages are clear. This is how you get the MacBook Air, an ultra-light laptop with all-day battery life and more processing power than most people need. The MacBook Air has its own problems, repairability- and sustainability-wise, but Apple’s tight accessory integration is incredibly wasteful. 

For example, buy one of Apple’s new M4 iPads Pro, and you will have to buy a new Pencil and Magic Keyboard case too. The previous ones (the 2nd-gen Pencil and original Magic Keyboard case with trackpad) won’t work. For the 13-inch iPad Pro, that means an extra $558 on top of the cost of the iPad. For a keyboard and stylus. 

And because the keyboard cases use Apple’s proprietary smart connector instead of Bluetooth (another handy integration which eliminates pairing and charging), you cannot use that ~$300 keyboard ever again.

It’s not all bad. When the iPad Air lost its home button and went USB-C, Apple made it compatible with the same keyboard and Pencil as the iPad Pro. And the new M2 Air, announced last week, still works with that same keyboard case.

The iPad’s greatest strength over the Mac (other than the touch screen) is its modularity. You can turn it into a drawing tablet, a laptop, a music studio, or just use it to read a book without a keyboard getting in the way. 

But while the Mac’s accessory game isn’t quite as tidy, it used wholly non-proprietary connections. Buy a new Mac and you can still use external keyboards, mice, Wacom tablets etc. You can even switch to a Windows computer and take those accessories with you. Try that with an Apple Pencil.

It’s bad for Apple, too. I’ve been a heavy iPad user since the beginning, and I still used my 2018 iPad Pro more than my Mac. But thanks to the fact that I’d have to spend a lot more than just the already high-price of the new M4 Pros to replicate my iPad/Pencil/Keyboard setup, I’m sticking with what I have. Combine that with the fact that the M4 Pros don’t really do anything the 2018 model can’t, and it’s a lot of money just for a fancier screen.

Lock-in often works to the advantage of the vendor, preventing customers from leaving the platform. But if you go too far, and lock people into a single device, the same holds true—people end up not bothering to upgrade because they have to replace not just the computer but also all its peripherals. In a way, that might be the best thing to come out of the new iPad launch—it’s forcing people to stick with the perfectly-good iPads they already own.