The case against (gasp!) Apple Pencil support

Drew’s discussion on the iPad Pros podcast made me excited for upcoming features.

I was also glad to hear that little development had been done on the integration of the Apple Pencil.

I don’t want to be a villian, but I’d like to make a case against prioritizing that feature development.

First off: Pencil integration would be handy. I have been using “smart” stylus devices for a decade (Lenovo Wacom penabled tablet PCs long before the iPad Pro was even an idea) and love writing and drawing on these devices.

It would also be a decent move from a business standpoint. Pencil integration is one of those features that catches headlines and might draw a substantial number of new users.

That said, I wonder how it aligns strategically. I don’t know much about what Apple provides to support Pencil development, so maybe it’s no big deal to implement basic support, and doing so won’t come at a cost to additional new features. But if Pencil integration is basic, then what’s the point? I imagine a basic implementation looking something like Evernote’s sketches—arbitrary inserted images that, while nice, are little different from drawing in another app and dropping it in a note. And if that’s the case, I’d be likely to just keep doing that: using other, better drawing apps and dropping those items in.

To do better than “basic” support would probably mean handwriting recognition or OneNote-style “Draw anywhere” functionality. I’d love either of these things, but I imagine the development work would be substantial.

I’m also wary of the competitive environment. Evernote, OneNote and other apps provide decent-to-great support in the domain of styluses, and if either wanted to be evil and move on Agenda’s territory by tying notes and dates closer together, it might be bad news in terms of differentiation.

On the podcast, Drew talks about Agenda’s “Apple integrations” strategy, which I celebrated—it makes a lot of sense to leverage built-in data types to bring our notes together in holistic ways. It’s also strategically clever: the tight integrations are hard to imitate. So, I hope that Agenda continues to advance in this way—it’s a unique sell. Rather than spend time developing features like Pencil support to achieve basic feature parity with other notes apps, keep doing what you’re doing: building smart, elegant ways to bring people’s lives together.*

*this last bit is a little romantic, maybe, but it felt like it needed to be dramatic.


Addendum: this armchair strategizing is, of course, assuming that you haven’t figured out some brilliant way of doing stylus-based in-note drawing/handwriting that I haven’t considered.

Thank you for this thoughtful piece and happy to hear you liked a lot of what Drew mentioned. When it comes to Apple pencil support, it’s clear that this term seems simple but this is misleading. First, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, as evident from the 126 replies in the Apple Pencil Topic. Second, it has a lot of different parts, it’s not just a single feature that we build and ship, then it’s done. It can be anything from a simple doodle up until full blown handwriting recognition.

To us a few things are obvious:

  1. people would really like to see pencil support (again, 126 replies), and it’s clear to us that it has a place in the app

  2. it will be an ongoing effort to bring support, slotted in between other developments, each time prioritised depending on how important we believe it’s addition would be. This also depends on the unknown of what Apple brings in future OS updates that could make us decide to bring certain features forward or push them back in our development schedule.

  3. there’s no need to worry it means we won’t add anything else while we also add pencil support, we have a lot of exciting things queued up that I will be working on while Drew is working on the first basic pencil support.

Thanks! Appreciate the response. I definitely get that it isn’t an exclusive-or situation. And indeed, given the turnout on the Pencil topic, I’m aware that I’m the antagonist here. I wanted to offer an alternative user-perspective on the Pencil prioritization—just because many people jumped on that bandwagon doesn’t mean everyone wants it arbitrarily!

(Tangentially, if users asking for features influence the roadmap, it might be worth setting up a platform where we get limited numbers of votes for such things. A social platform like this is a prism for bias and bandwagoning. I don’t trust it—and I say this even as I contribute to it!)

I’ve never been a believer of direct user voting I’m afraid, I don’t believe that leads to good software and innovation . Instead I think a much more open forum like this is very effective in getting a good feel of what people are looking for, and allows as such a very indirect way of voting without immediately creating expectations and entitlement.


The lack of pencil support is what’s keeping me away from using this full time. In my job I need to be able to write, scribble and circle notes. I’m in a project management job that requires all different kinds of styles of note taking from flow charts, to diagrams to markups. I have to write the notes in notability then come back to Agenda and just put in a few points here and there. It almost makes the app useless for me. But I’m hanging on


The simple reason for Apple Pencil integration is that it would hugely helpful to be able to take notes long hand directly inside the application, much in the same way one edits longhand a typed document.


Fellow project manager here. I love the fact that Agenda notes is dated and that future notes can be prepared ahead of the meeting time (fits into my workflow quite well). However, I find myself constantly switching between onenote and agenda. I would much prefer to use Apple Pencil during the meetings instead of typing.


Hey all, I have a work-around for how to use the Apple Pencil with my iPad pro and Agenda. It is really only for writing, not for circling or doodling or doing diagrams, which I would like to see still, but it works really well for allowing me to hand write my notes. It is also free. The App is called Selvy PenSript and it is a Apple Pencil Keyboard so it integrates with any app (I think). I have no ties to this app. A friend showed it to me and I tried it and it worked for my awful handwriting (mostly). Honestly, I don’t use it a lot, as I am more a typer than a pencil user, but I did want to share in case it would help.

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I tried to find some workaround to simply start doodling (e.g. in Apple Notes) from some place in Note from the Agenda app, finish drawing/writing and insert the new image back into to the same place where the workflow started.

And I found it is possible…

I use url scheme [draw](mobilenotes://) as markdown code placed in the Note text (you can set up and easy text replacement in iOS, e.g., “ddd” which expands into the link.)

After expanding, it places draw link into Note, and clicking on it starts Apple Notes app. You create your doodle and… here is the problem… you cannot use simple Copy/Paste from Apple Notes, but you can save the image and after returning to the Agenda, insert it there at the cursor position from Photo Library.

This whole thing is just a proof of concept more than anything else, but something like this straightforward functionality is maybe the way to start with?

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This was definitely an interesting, thought provoking post. I had thought I was anxiously awaiting Apple Pencil support, but after reading this, and thinking about it, I would tend to agree. The more apps that I’ve tried with the pencil, the more I’ve concluded that getting it right, and having it be really useful is pretty rare, and apparently seems to take a lot of time and investment.

Currently I use GoodNotes (mostly, sometimes Apple Notes, and sometimes Notabiliity which I really like for pdf markups), and it’s become really easy to copy a note as a pdf from GoodNotes and paste it into Agenda.



Totally, this goes back to Ford’s - “if I asked what people wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’"

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Sorta. The forum actually provides a way for people to ask for faster horses, doesn’t it? It just isn’t very systematized. One benefit of this is that it’s loose and, as @mekentosj suggests, it doesn’t create user expectations. One drawback is that it isn’t a very scientific or designerly approach to gathering crowd-data, and is therefore vulnerable to bias and shallow-quality data.

Ford’s quote is clever and I generally agree with it, but it’s a bit reductive in terms of what you can actually learn by asking people the right questions in the right formats.

I wonder how the expectations of fellow pencil users can be tamed. My only suggestion is from my own experience using agenda for my meetings-- I have three to four meetings a day with clients. I like the the flexibility of handwriting notes linked to the meeting then after the session, using the markdown options to create meeting minutes and actionable todos from the meeting.

I personally think an emphasis on workflow might be in order rather than extended features as suggested by some users, i.e., Free handwriting and conversion to text.