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Pixar Tests the iPad Pro: “Perfect Palm Rejection”



Can the iPad Pro really replace pen and paper for aspiring and established artists? According to Pixar, the answer seems to be yes.

Apple visited the storied animation powerhouse yesterday, bringing along a dozen or so iPad Pro tablets, each accompanied by a Pencil, Apple’s new stylus.

Studios like Pixar are known for demanding high quality from their tools and often work with technology companies to help create or give feedback on new products made specifically to fill their niche (the partnership between Dreamworks and HP, for example, resulted in the magnificent DreamColor displays).

So it’s not unusual to see unreleased products being tested in the wild, especially by Apple – a company known for both their support of the creative industry and their marketing prowess.

Unsurprisingly, when you get to play with Apple products that aren’t out on the market yet, you want to post about it all over your social media profiles, and Pixar employees are no different.  The artists’ streams yesterday lit up with pictures and video of the new devices, and people like Michael B. Johnson, who runs the department at Pixar responsible for creating the tools their artists use to wow us at the cinema, found themselves answering a flurry of questions from excited Apple fans and tech bloggers.

According to Johnson and his compatriots, the iPad Pro features “perfect palm rejection,” an important consideration for any serious artist looking to replace their current sketchpads. Palm rejection is the ability for a device to ignore accidental input in favor of what a user is actually trying to accomplish – it gets its name from discarding the input from, say, your palm resting on a touchscreen while writing or drawing with a stylus.

Despite what you might think, this sort of technology is not new, even when it comes to the iPad. Apple has had to work on ignoring accidental touchscreen activation since the introduction of the first iPad Air, which saw the size bezels drastically reduced (meaning you’d have to hold the tablet by touching on the screen), and at least one app maker has built it into their shipping products.

Still, even the best palm rejection tends to be a little bit flaky, which is why it’s both telling and exciting that the Pixar artists were so impressed by the technology in the iPad Pro.

Overall, Johnson seemed both pleased with and excited for the new tech:

He wasn’t alone in that assessment. Pixar artist Don Shank also scored some playtime with the new tablet; when asked whether it felt more like a toy or a tool that a professional artist might use, he sided with classifying it as a pro tool “most definitely.”

Got some play time on an iPad Pro today. So fun! Can't wait until November.

A post shared by Don Shank (@donshank) on

Michael Yates, a Story Artist at Pixar, posted a short video while sketching on the iPad Pro. He said that Apple’s stylus, the Pencil, was “pretty fantastic,” comparing the tool favorably to one of Wacom’s Cintiq drawing tablets. He seemed unsure when asked if the tool could replace the Cintiq in a user’s workflow, however, as he wasn’t “sure how it will handle with [photoshop] just yet.”

Got to try out the apple pencil.

A post shared by Michael Yates (@yyates05) on

That seems to echo a lot of sentiment expressed throughout the industry – people are excited by the opportunities that the iPad Pro offers, but there’s a lot of uncertainty, since it requires software developers to create the necessary tools.

When it comes to consumers, the iPad Pro’s competition can mostly be found in Android tablets, some 2-in-1 PCs, and the smaller iPads. For many pros, however, the competition will be between the iPad Pro, the Wacom Cintiq and Microsoft’s eminently capable Surface Pro line.

Where the Cintiq (as well as the Surface) excels is in offering access to all the same tools a user might want on their normal desktops. You can draw straight into Photoshop. Where the iPad wins out over the Cintiq is with tighter OS X integration (an important consideration for many artists), a higher resolution display, and with its lamination – eliminating the air gap between touch glass and display reduces the parallax effect between the tip of the stylus and the drawing.

Still, the reaction – and all the news it’s generating – bodes well for Apple and the iPad Pro. iPad sales have been falling year over year, and Apple could use the boost provided by a new category launch to lift flagging sales and offer an alternative to the lukewarm reception of the Retina-screened MacBook.

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