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Inkers Cast a Wary Eye on Apple Tablet Debut

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microsoft-inkseine-prototype-inking-application-for-tablet-pc-and-umpc-deviceAs the announcement of the mythical Apple Tablet creeps closer, and as I’m cranking up an HP 2730p Tablet PC to go back into Ink note taking mode for the final week of rehearsals for The Buddy Holly Story at Wayside Theatre, I know there are quite a few Inkers out there who are a bit leery about what is going to happen tomorrow.

Already we’ve seen comments from folks about the lack of Inking, about the fact that a Tablet isn’t a Tablet unless you’re able to Ink on it, and of course the fact that the word slate has been rejuvenated as a part of a possible name for the new device. In my cynical commentary I’ve said more than once that I’ll be laughing my tookus off at all those who have dismissed Digital Ink as a valid data input method, who all of a sudden turn on a dime and discover that OMIGOD! you can actually write on a computer if Apple pulls out some form of Digital Inking

The speculation and guessing has been fun and a big part of that has been the continual dismissal of Digital Inking with a stylus. We Tableteers cringe when we hear about how this just doesn’t work as an input form and the blame is laid on the hardware and the software.

Yesterday when I was visiting my mother, who was a second grade teacher for most of her life, we were talking about this and she reminded me that when I was learning to write I had great printing skills, but was lousy at cursive. I still am. That reminded me of my first Tablet PC experiences when I printed more than I scribbled in cursive. That was purely a psychological barrier. I finally got over that barrier and even with my atrocious handwriting, discovered that whether leaving the digital notes I took as Ink, or having them recognized into text, the Tablet PC did indeed work better if I wrote in cursive.

Kindling my memory and piquing my interest further, my mother, in the way mother’s always dispense wisdom said, “I think these people who don’t think writing on a Tablet works are wrongly blaming the computer and not themselves. Most of us hate our handwriting. ” Her point was simple. Penmanship is personal expression and has become a lost art because many are uncomfortable with how they write. Many folks just aren’t comfortable presenting anything (even to themselves) written in their own scrawl. It goes against their self perception, something that text composed on a keyboard can help mask or bolster. I mean face it, text on a page is text on a page and could be typed by a monkey with enough luck, so there’s no ego or self perception issues at stake by using a keyboard. (Unless you forget to use Spell Check.)

Microsoft solved some of that (and then hopelessly and stupidly neglected to tell the world about it) by making the searching of Digital Ink almost as accurate as the searching of text. This made it comfortable for many Tableteers to take notes in Ink and leave it that way. OneNote excelled at this and still does. Handwriting recognition, while still important, became less so for those of us who checked our egos at the digitizer.

There’s a small part of me that hopes Apple unveils some form of Digital Inking tomorrow but I don’t really believe it will. Apple wants an experience we can all grasp quickly and see it enhancing our self perceptions not weakening them. That said, rumors that Apple has let leak that adjusting to the UI on the mythical Apple Tablet will take some getting used to remind me of that line often spoken about the early Tablet PCs: “The Tablet doesn’t learn you, you learn the Tablet.” That line was derided by most pundits back then and still is today. That said,  I’m betting that some form of that line will be spoken about the Apple Tablet and its supposed revolutionary UI, tomorrow. When it does, and becomes adopted as propaganda by the masses, once again I’ll be looking to lose weight in the area of my derriere by laughing uproariously.

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

8 Comments

  1. Antimatter

    01/26/2010 at 12:09 pm

    I’m one of those people who absolutely needs ink, and I’m almost certain we won’t be seeing it tomorrow considering Jobs’ public disapproval of the stylus.

    I consider the inclusion of a stylus to mark the difference between a content consumption and content creation device, and important distinction for the college campus. Practically everyone on campus has an iPod, iPhone, and laptop computer. These are things they carry around with them all the time, which are perfect for listening to music, viewing movies, or reading e-books. If the Apple tablet is meant for just these purposes, a lot of people are going to be asking “what the heck do I need this for?”

    If it includes inking, then every student and artist in the country automatically has a reason to buy the apple tablet. No more pesky “what’s it for?” question that needs to be answered.

    Anyway, my real concern is that if Apple releases this tablet without a stylus, every slate we see in the future will be released without a stylus or inking support, a troubling trend that is already starting with the HP Slate.

    Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but there is the possibility of some revolutionary ink input method which does not require a stylus. Something like a pinch gesture, where you pretend to write with a phantom stylus and the tablet recognizes this and gives you an ink cursor. This would be suitable for me if it actually works well.

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  2. Warner Crocker

    01/26/2010 at 12:14 pm

    @antimatter: Your mentions of that gesture intrigue the hell out of me. I’d be in the wait and see camp about that but it sounds very interesting to say the least.

  3. Antimatter

    01/26/2010 at 12:27 pm

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, I don’t know if this is a real prototype or a mockup.

    http://cradleme.com/CradleMe/Pinch_Cursor.html

    The next question I would have is how does the method hand pressure sensitivity/pen orientation.

    I forgot to mention one of my concerns about a stylus not being included by default. A lot of people dismiss this concern saying I could just use a third party capacitive pen to simulate inking, but they don’t realize that ink is a system wide data type in windows, and I can copy and manipulate it between applications. If I have to go the third party route with Apple, is my ink stuck in a certain application?

    I know it’s a little early to be worried about this, but I just have this sinking feeling I won’t feel any different tomorrow.

    I’m really hoping this will be my first Apple purchase, but they’ve managed to disappoint me in the past so I’m not hoping too too hard.

  4. Sumocat

    01/26/2010 at 1:25 pm

    The pinch gesture is an interesting idea, but it can’t replace a physical stylus. Tool manipulation is an essential element of the human experience. Without an actual pen, gesturing is just touch control. Besides, I use multiple grips; pinch is just one of them.

    BTW, Warner, I should use your mother’s quote from now on when telling folks their handwriting, not the handwriting recognition, is what sucks. Her phrasing is more elegant.

  5. Rodfather

    01/26/2010 at 5:55 pm

    I remember Inkseine. Too bad it appears to be at a halt.

  6. Dodot

    01/26/2010 at 6:52 pm

    @Rodfather

    I like to think that Inkseine develpment has paused because Ken and the rest of the team are busy cooking up something interesting – like the Courier perhaps? :)

    Besides, Inkseine has been rock-solid thus far – one of the better “Beta” releases I’ve had the pleasure of using. Only wish that the eMail integration would work with other clients. (Hasn’t worked with Windows Live Mail in my experience.)

  7. Mickey Segal

    01/26/2010 at 7:49 pm

    Ink is one reason for a pen, but precise control is a more important reason. A pen gives control 10 times as fine as a finger. It is like the difference between drawing and finger painting.

    If Apple leaves out a pen from its Tablet, Microsoft should do a spoof of Apple’s finger paint art invitation with fine art invitation.

  8. Brett Gilbertson

    01/26/2010 at 8:40 pm

    Very interesting observation Warner. I’ve never got my head around the aversion to handwriting as input. It always just made sense to me… And my handwriting is awful!

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