Most people considering purchasing the Apple iPad are asking themselves what they could do with the iPad that they couldn’t otherwise do, or what can it replace? For some the iPad will replace the Kindle and for others it may replace a netbook or notebook computer. What surprises me is that so few people seem to consider the iPad, or any other tablet, as a replacement for pen and paper.
Next to speech, writing is the second way most of us learn to communicate. Almost everyone is taught how to write with a pencil or pen on paper, and typing on a keyboard is not nearly as universal as writing. So, if we are looking for more natural, human ways to interact with computers, it would seem me to that we ought to be looking at speech and handwriting recognition. To my way of thinking all of the keyboards we use, whether they are physical or on-screen, require learning a skill that just isn’t practical to a huge number of people.
You might ask, why would one want to write on a computer screen rather than write on a piece of paper? The simple answers are storage and retrieval. Too often what I write is on little scraps of paper that get lost. Even if I were to write everything in spiral notebooks, at some time I may want to find what I wrote and the process of doing so may require spending a lot of time going through different notebooks. To put it simply, computers were made to fix this problem.
The technology exists within the tablet computers of today to display what is handwritten at the same resolution as what you see on paper. The display of handwriting on a computer screen is commonly called inking. You can use programs like OneNote and Evernote to write notes in digital ink. The programs perform handwriting recognition on what you write and store the results in the background to create an index of the written notes. With an index in place you can then perform searches on the words you write, and your notes will appear in the search results. James Kendrick recently showed the power of this search capability.
I hope to use my iPad as a replacement for pen and paper by writing on the screen and having what I write saved in digital ink in Evernote. The problem is that the iPad’s touchscreen technology is not optimal for handwriting. One problem is that if you rest your hand on the screen to write like you do on paper, the touchscreen may falsely display that contact as input. Another problem is that the iPad’s touchscreen will not recognize the touch of the small point of a stylus. It is possible for programs to have palm rejection capability so that it ignores the contact of your palm, and you can buy styluses with a larger tip that will work with the iPad’s screen.
Todd wrote about Adobe Ideas for the iPad which he says will work well for turning the iPad into a portable whiteboard. In addition to trying Adobe Ideas, I also plan to try Penultimate, which GottaBeMobile recently wrote about. Penultimate doesn’t index your handwriting, but it appears that you can save what you write in Penultimate in Evernote. Another program that looks interesting is School Notes Pro. I’ll try all of these programs, but what I most look forward to is inking directly in Evernote.