Issue 47 Sep 17, 2023

Writing on glass

I'm an avid iPad user, and have been for a long time. There's much promise in it as a computing platform, so much that I ran a (presently defunct) newsletter and site called Switch to iPad. I use the iPad daily, for different things. One of those is note-taking, and that involves the Apple Pencil, and the much-hated feeling of writing on glass.

It takes time getting used to, the feeling of glass. It's hard and slippery, lacking the friction of paper. This is in no way a fault of the Apple Pencil, this is a marvel, especially when used on the fast screens of the recent iPad Pro models. Pressure sensitivity and a high refresh rate really makes it shine, but you'll get away with it on a cheaper iPad too. Lately, I've mostly written on my iPad mini 6, despite having access to relevant Pro models. Sometimes size really is everything, and the convenience of the iPad mini trumps the power and feature set of even the 11" iPad Pro.

I put the whole writing on glass thing to the test a while back, when I decided to start my journey to become a sommelier. No, I don't think I'm changing course, I just happen to be very interested in wine. Anyway, said course was the equivalent of a university education at half speed, with a lot of information during the days in attendance. That meant plenty of note-taking, and I made a point of not using anything other than my iPad mini 6 and Apple Pencil.

It took some getting used to, but mostly because I was used to laying the iPad flat, or on a tilted stand made for illustrators. I've been using iPads for design, especially in the wireframe and early draft stages, for years. Writing came natural, I was used to the slippery feel of the cold glass under the hard tip of the Apple Pencil.

There are ways around this. The most known and popular way is to put a screen protector mimicking paper on your iPad screen. It serves as a regular protector, but more importantly, it adds friction. This makes the iPad feel more akin to paper. The Paperlike brand is the most well-known, and although I've yet to try their latest version, dubbed 2.1, I'm reluctant to rely on them. Said protector might feel good against the Pencil, but they're rarely nice to use your finger on for a longer period of time. I had a competing brand on my beta iPad about a year ago, and I didn't care for the feeling of it after an hour of Slay the Spire.

Another thing I don't like with these paper-like screen protectors is the way they distort and dampen the image. Yes, they've improved a lot over the years, but the iPad, much like other modern handheld computing devices, including phones, has a gorgeous screen. It's the main feature after all. I don't want it slightly off its potential, which is why I never put a regular screen protector on anything either. I know, I like to live dangerously.

I've tried two alternatives recently, and finally feel ready to mention them. Both are from an accessory maker called PenTips, and, as the name implies, they focus on custom tips for your Apple Pencil. I actually went for their other option first however, which is a screen protector much like Paperlike and its ilk. The difference is, it's magnetically attached (and yes, it aligns easily), so when you're done working you can put it away. Granted, it's quite a bit thicker than the more permanent screen protectors, but the fact that you can add and remove it any number of times felt like a reasonable compromise. I picked it up for my iPad mini 6 first, and then for the 11" iPad Pro, and I like these a lot. They're rough to touch due to the friction, but it is a more paper-like experience.

(Paperlike really nailed the name of their product, didn't they?)

Being that impressed with PenTips's magnetic matte screen protectors, I had to try their Apple Pencil tips. They're available in a wide variety, and sold in packs. That implies that these tips will wear out, and while I've yet to do that, I can see them being damaged in a bag for example. They're softer than the default Pencil tip, and rubbery to give more friction when touching the glass. It's not an identical feel, I don't think, and rather mushy in comparison at first, but you get used to it. Now, picking up a hard Apple Pencil tip feels weird against the glass. I prefer the PenTips to the screen protector variant because it lets me see the screen as it's meant to be.

Tools and accessories like these are just gravy though. The true win of writing on glass is the digital notebook. Your notes aren't scattered across a handful of small notebooks, and if you need to revise something, you can if you pick the right app. I use GoodNotes most of the time, which recently launched a sixth version. This one impressed me a lot, it can even spell-check and correct (!) my handwriting (!!), which is really cool. It's not available for Swedish unfortunately so I'm not getting as much use of the feature as I'd like, but that's not surprising given the fact that Apple's hand-recognition Scribble feature isn't available either. Hopefully this'll change soon.

The argument against note-taking on a tablet is the same as the one against ebooks: It doesn't feel right. Paper is paper, and pen on paper can be different things entirely, depending on the tools you use. On the other hand, you've got the same with a drawing app like Procreate, with tons of brushes. They're different things, that's what they are. If you can get over the first admittedly weird feeling of writing on glass, it's a powerful tool. You don't have to pick one either, there's nothing wrong with scribbling in a notebook for a project. I'm writing a lot by hand at times, and although I'm anxious to try long-form writing with the new tips from PenTips, and the features in GoodNotes 6, I've yet to do so in earnest, and I'm doubtful as how it'll feel.

Taking notes, changing the notes, restructuring them, adding drawings and shapes and colors, moving it around as I'm sitting there, that's a powerful tool to me. It happens on glass.


✍🏻 Unintentional, but PenTips just released two new tips: Ink and Fiber. I haven’t tried any of them, but will probably order at some point.

🤖 We Are Entering a Maker Renaissance argues this story, pointing towards generative AI. Not untrue, but renaissance is perhaps a strong word.

🕸️Robin Rendle has a dark view on the state of websites.

🚗 Cars are privacy nightmares says Mozilla. It’s worse than I thought, and non-surprisingly, Tesla is the worst of the bunch.

🤡 Let this be a lesson to all: Don’t work with, or for, X/Twitter, and Elon Musk.

📓 As someone with more notebooks, filled and otherwise (mostly the latter), than possibly healthy, this piece resonated.

👺 Unity has changed its pricing model, and game developers are pissed off, rightly so. Even if they backpedal, this burns them as the safe choice for game developers. Related: Unity's new fees leave game developers fuming and Slay the Spire developer Mega Crit on X.

📨‘Yours sincerely’ is dead. So how should you sign off an email? A silly little column on email etiquette. Personally, I just end the emails with a name, and start the with either a simple Hi, or, if it’s a more formal acquaintance, Dear Name.

🐴 Right here on the Bored Horse site: Considering today season 1 is live.

Got something I should read? Send it to me, either by replying to this letter, tweeting to @tdh, or hitting up on Bluesky. Thanks!


📚 Not much reading this week either. I’m sludging along with The Dragonbone Chair, and reading the occasional issue from the Transmetropolitan run.

🎵 "Perhaps" is a new single by Guns n' Roses. It's been out for almost two weeks now, and it keeps growing on me. Here's hoping we'll get a full-length album soon.

📺 You know, the only things I’ve watched this week are the Apple keynote (boring iPhone stuff), and an episode of Fauda. TV isn’t doing it for me at the moment.

🎮 Not much time, or will, to play right now. A short Breath of the Wild session with the kid was all.

I can’t remember when I’ve slept as much as I did this weekend. That’s probably a good thing. Try to get some shut-eye yourself, you’re worth it.

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡

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