In a recent post, James Landay compared Dan Bricklin’s note-taking app with a research project called NotePals done at FXPAL during a summer internship by Richard Davis, James’ student. The idea behind both is that writing on a small device (or with poor spatial resolution) is hard, but if you write large and then scale down the ink, you get much more legible results.
Dan’s iPad app works great for this purpose, and with only a little practice one can get really proficient with it. I’ve used it as my primary sketching tool on the iPad, including for sketching interface designs. I wish I could import background images into it for sketching on, but otherwise it’s a nice basic tool. The same idea — write on a zoomed out image & then shrink the ink — works great on the iAnnotate app as well, although the interaction is not really optimized for that the way that Briklin’s app is.
This kind of basic sketching can be taken much further, as SILK, SATIN, K-Sketch, and others have demonstrated. (For a nice demo of animations created through sketching, see Richard Davis’s recent K-Sketch video.)
It’s interesting to see mass-market commercial software starting to edge into powerful but complex sketching interactions more typical of research systems. There is often the expectation that an application should be obvious to use, and that people should be able to achieve near-total mastery without trying too hard. It will be interesting to see if some of these sketching applications can introduce slightly more complex interactions to gain considerably more expressiveness. I think there is a market for such tools among people interested in rapid prototyping and design, whether they are building a web site, designing a kitchen floor plan, or story-boarding movies or animations. The challenge for designers of such tools is to introduce complexity to achieve expressiveness while keeping other parts of the interaction appropriately simple.