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

Lord Groundhog lordgroundhog at gmail.com
Mon Mar 15 14:19:00 EDT 2010

~~~ On 2010/03/14 17:33, James Fraser at
wheresthatistanbul-newtontalk at yahoo.com wrote ~~~

> ...
> 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.

...and here, to me, is the heart of the problem with this discussion:  the
subjectivity, both in the sense of the uniqueness of each person's situation
and in the sense of each person's aesthetic, predispositions, and so on.

The restricted suitability of speech recognition is something I (and several
others) keep pointing out.  First, speaking practically, there are all kinds
of things that we currently can do in all kinds of public places on our
Newts that we'd have to stop doing by speech recogition:  writing a story or
writing poetry or composing a song or writing a personal letter making a
note to oneself about what kind of gift to get for one's partner or ...  You
get the idea.  Think about just these plain tasks.  If I saw someone
speaking poetry or a letter or whatever in my train car or sitting in a
café, what are my choices of response?   How about:  "How rude!"  "Must be
some kind of techno-poser"  "Show-off git!"  "recently discharged from the
local asylum"  "I think I'll move away"  etc.   it's just too ODD.  Maybe
I've lived in the UK too long or something, but it really is intolerably
rude to be in public and impose one's private or semi-private matters upon
other people who have to be where they are and would rather not be forced to
be the captive audience of a babbling stranger!

Now, let's think about commercial matters and matters of professional ethics
for certain professions, as well as the Data Protection laws that most
countries now have.  There are all kinds of data which simply *must not* be
put at the kind of risk of compromise that speaking it out loud might put it
in some circumstances.  This means that for those of us who can't sit in a
very private environment to dictate notes, speech recognition almost becomes
an excuse *not* to work.  "Sorry, I couldn't work on Mr.___'s notes while
commuting to work this morning; there were other people in the same train
car with me" / "Sorry, I couldn't work on the ____ account at my desk
because now that our office is open-plan, confidential accounts like theirs
can only be done in one of our special isolated rooms and we don't have
enough of them".  OK, so this is exaggerated, but only slightly.  The
problem isn't insignificant.  Right now I can work on my clients' cases even
on a plane, comfortable in the knowledge that my handwriting is an
impenetrable mystery to anyone trying to steal a glance over my shoulder,
and knowing that once I'm in private and I convert the note to text, I can
print that out and file it as normal.

Another problem:  there already are many methods for surveilling
conversations in a room or vehicle -- or even out in the open.  And even
keystrokes on a keyboard aren't immune.  There are industrial secrets, to
say nothing of anything else, for which companies are willing to spend a lot
of money conducting such surveillance.  But at least so far as I've been
able to find out, there are no comparable ways of detecting stylus strokes
indirectly (i.e., by means other than direct observation).  Start speaking
to your desktop or laptop or Newton, and you can be overheard not only by
the people sitting nearby whom you can see, but by any methods of industrial
espionage that already work against conversations.

I would love to be able to use speech recognition, and a lot of others would
too, but the problem of public rudeness, to say nothing of professional
ethics at work, rule that out.

> 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."

Or, "we don't want you doing anything serious on this, maybe just a little
posing with a sentence here or a short paragraph there.  Why would you want
to type more than 140 characters?"

> 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.  ...

...and just the same as any non-"key" part of the screen, including the
spaces between the "keys".

> 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.

Yup.  I've tried virtual keyboards in the past:  maybe I'm just not a good
enough touch-typist -- I've only been touch-typing since about 1962 or '63
-- but the lack of feedback of a depressing key just does my head in.  And I
don't want to have to look at my hands to make sure I'm where I should be on
the keyboard.  I also don't want to have to look at the screen to see what's
happening.  That's the point of learning to t-t instead of hunt-and-peck:
not having to look at what you're doing all the time.

> 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.

Funny; it was this kind of attitude in the last century that made me really,
really want to move away from windoze machines.  And in the end I chose
Apple as my alternative because at the time they seemed so much more
responsive to users than the "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude I got in the
world of wintel.   And now we're having this conversation.

Just my 2 coins of insignificant value.


~~~ ~~~ ~~~

³Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from a Newton.²
            -- what Arthur C. Clarke meant

(With thanks to Chod Lang)

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
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