feature of the week

Annotation: Apple Pencil

| feature of the week

We’ve taken a look at some of the improvements made to annotation in forScore 10.1 over the past few weeks, and today we’re closing out that series with a look at the biggest piece of the puzzle—Apple Pencil. It’s been just over a year now since Apple introduced this slick stylus and we’ve worked very hard since then to provide an annotation experience that takes full advantage of its unique capabilities without disrupting anyone’s existing annotation workflow (especially important for users without an iPad Pro or Apple Pencil).

The first thing we had to do was turbo-charge our annotation engine. We’d already spent 5+ years optimizing it for exceptional performance on a wide range of devices, so adapting to accommodate the latest hardware’s ability to provide four times as much data was no small feat. With forScore 9.3, we did just that. We also added support for Pencil’s pressure sensitivity, but that was just the start.

The biggest change in forScore 9.3 was the ability to automatically activate annotation mode by simply drawing on the screen with Apple Pencil. It was a game changer for the annotation experience, and provided a huge upgrade for Pencil users while remaining completely transparent for everyone else.

This was a big step forward, but it certainly wasn’t the end of it. Since forScore saves the last drawing preset or annotation tool you were using and keeps it active the next time you start annotating, and since the annotation toolbar isn’t visible until you activate annotation mode, the experience became less predictable (especially after switching back and forth between drawing and erasing). So in forScore 9.4, we added settings to let you control how annotation tools are saved between sessions.

Although iOS includes palm rejection to block unintentional touches (such as resting your hand on the screen while you write with Apple Pencil), some users found that they were occasionally ending up with stray marks on their sheet music. To address this, we added a new setting in forScore 10.0 to disable finger drawing if you’ve activated annotation mode with Apple Pencil. If you enter annotation mode manually, finger input still works normally—we do this in case you need to annotate and your Pencil is out of reach or out of power.

Each of these changes pushed the annotation experience forward, offering fine-grained control to the users who need it while remaining natural to newcomers and unobtrusive to the majority of our users who don’t have an iPad Pro or Apple Pencil. They were tough to hone in on and even tougher to implement, but in the end we created a system that we were very proud of. Except for one thing: persistent feedback from users that the experience still felt incomplete. They loved that they could annotate by simply drawing, but disliked that they still had to tap the “Done” button to save their changes when they were finished.

Which, finally, brings us to forScore 10.1. With this most recent update, we added a setting that allows forScore to automatically save your changes and exit annotation mode after a period of inactivity. We considered this idea for a long while and consistently came away with two major sticking points: that activating annotation mode and saving changes over and over again is resource intensive, and that any unintentional collision with your Pencil could result in permanent changes to your annotations.

To solve the first problem, we went back to our annotation engine once again to squeeze even more performance out of it. We aimed high, rolled up our sleeves, and ended up with a remarkably novel yet reliable way of improving efficiency and fine-tuned drawing to an unprecedented degree. This is hard to overstate: we moved metaphorical mountains.

That left the possibility of unintentional markings. To solve this problem, we expanded our undo/redo system to work between annotation sessions as long as you stay on the same page. We discussed this change last week, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already.

Now that this is the lengthiest feature of the week yet, it should be clear that annotation is incredibly important to us. We continue to push so hard because we know that it’s the make-or-break feature for many musicians out there. We want forScore to be the best app it can be, and for so many of our customers that means annotation has to be simply best in class.