Handwriting Recognition is iPad’s Next Hurdlepost by Chris Curran on June 3, 2010
A recent survey of 500 companies by Citrix says that 80% of companies plan to buy iPads. The big question is why? The iPad is a no-brainer for a personal laptop replacement, super media device, advanced remote control, and all-around great home computing device. But for work, the rationale is less clear.
At the latest All Things Digital, when asked is the iPad would replace laptops or PCs, Steve Jobs said:
PCs are gonna be like trucks; they’re still gonna be around and still gonna add value, but they are going to be used by 1 out of X people.
Many uses we haven’t thought of yet will make the iPad and possibly other tablets valuable to the enterprise, especially in places where we interact with customers. The size, accelerometer, graphics and multi-touch interface make the iPad a perfect device for situations that would benefit from simultaneous interaction with 2 or more people.
Aside from to-be-determined custom apps, I just don’t see the iPad as a general purpose business computer - yet. While much has been written about the bad adaptation of office document apps such as Keynote for iPad, these software and usability issues will be fixed soon. What remains, is the issue of getting text for emails, documents, blog posts, spreadsheet data, etc. into the iPad.
iPad Data Entry Options
You have 4 choices:
- Use the virtual keyboard
- Use an external keyboard
- Use a stylus and note taking app geared for it
- Voice entry (thanks Nalneesh)
The virtual keyboard is cramped and requires the iPad to be on a flat or slightly inclined surface, which defeats the purpose of the tablet form factor. Some say “stop complaining about data entry, just get a keyboard” (about $900 w 3G and external keyboard). I say just get an Apple Air ($1499) for a full fledged computer and only a little more than a pound of weight. The stylus method uses the iPad as a tablet, but the output is locked in images. The final option is voice recognition using something like Dragon Dictate, which requires a mic or quiet room, an internet connection and varies wildly by person. So, to fully realize the potential of this great device in the enterprise, school or doctors office, it must support handwriting recognition.
The single biggest barrier in making the iPad a real general purpose business computer is the lack of handwriting recognition.
Apple has over 20 handwriting recognition related patents dating back to 1997 and the Newton experiences, so why did they leave it out? Maybe because they felt it sent a “this is a complicated computer” message to the marketplace. Or, maybe its just part of a calculated roll-out strategy, during which they would also add multitasking, a forward facing camera for videoconferencing, a better way to manage files and -gasp- a stylus.
Taking Notes with the iPad
So, to prepare myself for the day handwriting recognition comes (fingers crossed), I’ve spent the last month using my iPad as my primary note taking device (option #3 above). I chose to do this with a Pogo stylus and Note Taker HD (written by Diamond advisor and spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin). While NoteTaker does not add handwriting recognition, it does everything else you need to write, tag, and share (in PDF or image) your handwritten notes and drawings. The major innovation NoteTaker adds is in shrinking down your handwriting to get around the thick penstrokes from your finger and even a stylus. This leaves you with a great looking page with small but legible handwriting. In his next release, Dan is adding support for multiple pages, colored pens and VGA output.
Bottom line is that until handwriting recognition is available, the iPad is an excellent option for innovative application development, but not yet a great general business computing device. But get one for the house - it’s the next transistor radio!