Can the iPad Pro and Apple pencil replace physical paper and pen in architecture?

The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil can be powerful tools for architects and designers, and they have the potential to replace physical paper and pen in many aspects of the profession. However, whether they can fully replace traditional tools depends on various factors and individual preferences. While this iPad-Pencil combination supports a number of useful applications, from note-taking to 3D modelling, I can only really comment on the ways in which we use it.

Apart from the obvious uses, such as keeping a photo library or PDF portfolios, we use it mainly for sketching, note-taking and drawing annotations in our day-to-day operations.

Digital Drawing and Sketching
The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil offer high-resolution screens and precise stylus input, allowing us to create detailed digital sketches and drawings. There are many architecture apps, like Autodesk SketchBook, Concept and Adobe Fresco, that provide tools that mimic traditional drawing and drafting techniques, but we prefer a combination of Procreate and Morpholio Trace.

Apps like Notability and GoodNotes are designed for note-taking, but we prefer the simplicity of Apple’s own Notes app, built into the operating system. The ability to type notes, paste graphics, and make a quick sketch all combined in one note makes it perfect for how we work. It is also useful for quick sketches on site, that can then be distributed immediately by email to everyone involved, reducing time back in the office.

Since all of our projects are kept in the cloud, and all our drawings are issued as PDFs, it is quick and simple to access them on site. If what is required is a simple redline drawing over an existing drawing, then it goes to Procreate. If something more involved is required, that needs to be done to scale, then the PDF is brought into Morpholio, scaled there, and then everything can be measured and done to scale. For some active sites, we make sure to import and scale the current drawing set in Morpholio before setting off to site.

The advantage of using the iPad and pencil, rather than paper and pen, is mainly a reduction in clutter. With physical materials, if we wanted to mark up a drawing, we would have to print the drawing to scale in the office, then sketch over it (or at least a sheet of tracing paper), scan it, and email it. This leaves us with now redundant copies that are recycled, and a number of unnecessary steps. With the iPad, we simply bring the drawing into Morpholio or Procreate, sketch over it, and email directly. This reduction in clutter extends to the fact that, when visiting sites, we need only carry one iPad instead of a roll of drawings for every site we are about to visit – not to mention superseded drawings or the engineer’s designs.

On the downside, the initial cost of the equipment is not negligible, costing more than many laptop computers, and nothing will ever replace the feeling of drawing on paper. We have screen protectors by Paperlike that certainly help add to the tactile sensation, but it will never be the same.

While we do not think that the iPad and pencil will replace our computers any time soon, it is a valuable (and by now irreplaceable) part of our workflow.