The pen is mighter than the finger


The Apple marketing machine has shifted gears, releasing several videos of iPads running different applications before the upcoming product launch. The larger screen is undoubtedly an improvement over the iPhone-sized display, but the interactivity has not improved with this device. Sure you can resize photos, move slides around and read more text without paging, but in its essence, this is just an iPhone on steroids.

I was struck by this picture, published by TechCrunch, and its contrast to a shot of XLibris that we took about ten years ago.

iPad with Evernote app, circa 2010

XLibris on a slate, circa 1999

There is a big difference in hardware, and in software. The 2010 hardware is much more capable; the software has focused touch rather than then pen. Is touch better, because we’re more used to fingers than pens, and because pens are easy to lose? I don’t think so, for the reason illustrated below.

First Look: SketchNotes for iPad

The inking lacks fluidity characteristic of writing with a stylus, in part because you cannot see the point at which you finger touches the screen, and in part because the fine-motor control over a stylus is better than that of a single fingertip. Compare this image to cursive written on a tablet PC, and you see why the stylus is superior to the finger for freeform digital ink input.

Handwriting example using the Windows Tablet OS

I am not saying that everyone needs the full power of InkSeine, an advanced prototype application written on top of the Tablet PC OS, but rather that the ability to create ink with a stylus leverages the experience people already have to be expressive. When augmented with computation, freeform digital ink input can improve people’s ability to work with documents in an intuitive and expressive way.

The iPad has a slick interface for certain rudimentary operations, but dragging and resizing are only to primitive operations that are about manipulating data. The stylus complements the keyboard as an effective means of creating content.