[NTLK] Who here thinks the iPad is a worthy replacement for the Newton?

James Fraser wheresthatistanbul-newtontalk at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 14 13:33:40 EDT 2010


--- On Fri, 3/12/10, Ryan <newtontalk at me.com> wrote:

> I really like the handwriting recognition on the Newton... kudos to  
> Larry on that. In today's world though, where most people
> are now touch typists and with accurate speech recognition,
> handwriting is not the preferred input.

If you'll pardon my saying so, that's a very subjective judgment on your part.

The "preferred" method of input for any given device is going to depend on who in particular is using the device, what they are using it for, and *where* they are using it.  I understand that handwriting might not be your own personal favorite way of getting information into a portable device, but I'm not convinced that everyone else necessarily shares that view.

> Using soeech recognition, I can craft emails so much faster
> than typing, which means it's hard to go back to something that
> is much slower. HR is great for filling out forms and shorter
> things like that, but with other built in technologies on the iPad,
> like predictive text, etc., the importance of a stylus comes
> down to graphic design applications.

I was at In-and-Out (burger joint) recently and, apparently, it's their practice to send an employee out to the drive-thru line when the cars start stacking up.  The employee walks around with a small, handheld device of some kind (?) and takes orders that way (i.e. so that taking orders is not wholly dependent on a car being without shouting distance of the drive-thru speaker).

Let me ask you: between the sqawk of the drive-thru speaker, the radios in the cars going full blast, the people in the cars yammering about what they do/don't want to order, and the restaurant's own PA system constantly blaring out order numbers, do you *really* suppose that voice recognition is going to be the best way to get information into those handheld units under such circumstances?

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that you have access to a quiet environment in which you can make good, effective use of voice recognition software, but please believe me when I tell you that not everyone is always lucky enough to be able to input information under quiet, controlled conditions.  To say nothing of the fact that voice recogntion requires you to speak out loud, which is the easiest way I know of to provide other people with access to the information you're dealing with.

To be clear: for a stationary device being used in a quiet environment (and with non-confidential information at stake) voice recognition works quite well.  However, for a portable device being used in an environment where other people are talking, (sometimes loudly) and taking it as read that the information you're inputting is not something you want the rest of the English-speaking world to have access to, voice recognition is likely to offer more in the way of frustration rather than efficiency when it comes to getting anything done.

This is not to say that handwriting input doesn't have its own limitations and drawbacks.  Just that, as the Newton (and this list) has demonstrated, there is still a place for HWR in a device in 2010.  I also understand (correct me if I'm wrong) that there is a HWR app or two available for the iPhone and, let's face it, people don't tend to spend time writing software they think no one will ever want.
> And with a big, bright beautiful screen and large virtual
> keyboard, HR does not have much of a place on the iPad.

Since we're trading subjective judgments, here's mine: virtual keyboards are device manufacturers' way of telling their end users, "We hate you and we want your typing experience on this device to be as miserable as possible."  

Why do I say this?  Because virtual keyboards suffer from a complete lack of tactile feedback.

Tactile feedback is (IMHO) important because, without it, your hand has no way of knowing if it is doing something right/wrong on its own: one virtual "key" is just the same as any other.  That is, without tactile feedback present, your brain has to tell your hand, "You're doing something right (or wrong)," which, naturally, takes more time than if your hand can determine this on its own through feedback.

Tactile feedback is why touch typists are so damn fussy about the keyboards they use: they realize that their typing speed is likely to be greatly increased by a keyboard that offers more in the way of tactile feedback.  Conversely, their typing speed is likely to be greatly decreased by a keyboard that offers little to nothing in the way of tactile feedback.

Yes, I'm sure we can go back and forth all day about how some folks can type "really fast" on, say, an iPhone's virtual keyboard.  However, the fact that the iPad's virtual keyboard will be much bigger does not mitigate the fact that the newer, bigger keyboard will offer the exact same amount of tactile feedback that the iPhone's virtual keyboard currently offers: zero.

By my way of thinking, if Apple were really, truly serious about my input experience on an ostensibly portable device, they would offer something like this:



...that Palm can offer for its devices, but that Apple, for reasons that are unclear to me, cannot.  The most I've seen from Apple so far in the way of effort is a keyboard dock for the iPad that, as near as I can make out, is Apple's attempt to keep me deskbound as opposed to being able to take some sort of decent keyboard with me when I'd like to enter more than two sentences into their portable devices.

Yes, I understand that some folks are perfectly contented with mashing their fingers on slabs of glass and calling it "typing," but as for me, I just can't bring myself to do it on a regular basis.  Try as I might, I cannot convince myself that Apple does not have the skillz to concoct a decent portable keyboard for the iPhone/iPad when the Newton offers TWO (count 'em) keyboards...and was built more than a decade ago.  

Worse, Macally has had an iPhone external keyboard ready to go since January of 2008.  Yet here we are, in 1Q of 2010, with Apple, to the best of my knowledge, being no closer to releasing the driver needed to allow such a peripheral to work than they were two years ago.  I mean, if Apple doesn't want to build an external keyboard, fine, but do they have to be such emunctory apertures as to stand in the way of a third party that has demonstrated that, yes, it wants to meet a perceived demand that Apple (apparently) doesn't want to meet?

I know this is going to sound perfectly awful, but rather than mastering technology Apple has, instead, mastered the art of determining what consumers are willing to settle for and still hand Apple money.  This is no small feat, and I do not actually mean this in a derogatory way.  I simply mean that, rather than exert themsevles so that their 2010 devices can offer me at least the same input options that my 1997 device does, Apple has found a way to ignore such considerations and get people to settle for a *less* satisfactory input experience than they offered end users more than a decade ago.

>From a marketing perspective, it's pure genius (no lie).  In that respect, at least, the iPad/iPhone are huge leaps forward, indeed.  

However, when I compare them to what I have access to with the Newton, the new devices don't come off looking nearly as well.  Honestly, I wish I could share the widespread enthusiasm over the clear advantages the newer devices have, (color screens, etc.) but in terms of the input experience, (to my mind, one of the most important considerations for *any* device, not just portable ones) Apple seems to have taken a step backward in their efforts with the iPad.

Until that changes, I'm not convinced the iPad can truly be considered a replacement for the Newton (unless by "replacement," it is deemed acceptable for newer technology to offer fewer and less satisfactory options to the end user than older technology did).


James Fraser

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