Tag Archives: Handwriting recognition

The Moleskine Report, Part V

Further to my postings and column on the Moleskine notebook, here’s one final emai linterview with Patrick Ng, Hong Kong-based host of the upcoming Moleskine Art competition. I reproduce it in its entirely because Patrick has a very fresh and direct way of articulating the problem, and the solution:

There is currently no substitute for pen and paper: Unless the electronics industry goes drastically into certain new direction or comes up with new new inventions, the situation won’t change for me coz I’ve been there.

It all goes back to the “pleasure of writing”. I won’t mention the age before my Sharp IQ-800 but I was a Newton MP user and the webmaster of Hong Kong Newton User Group, Newton drew me because of the stylus and the proximity of true writing and the promise of merging traditional scribbling with digital connectivity. When Newton went dead, most switched to Palm including me. Palm didn’t give me the same “true writing” feeling. Believing that the future is digital, I switched to Psion, Treo and now Blackberry. And all of a sudden, I found that there are too many variables in the playground:

ever changing models -> upgrade or lost data in predictable 6 months because new features are there, old features won’t be supported, I feel very uneasy.
– switching to new gadget -> all the hassle to export/import data -> decide which contact you want to delete due to limited storage or different format -> fax number became mobile phone number etc. In addition, if you use a Mac, sometimes you have to buy more software so that you can export/import or sync properly. Hassle. – PC card, flash or hard disk now have longer life span, but your device stores them in particular format, putting them into other devices won’t save your data unless you do export/import. Isn’t it extremely volatile?
– Run on built-in battery -> carry charger all the time

Simply said, it is too much to put everything into a PDA and rely on one device for everything, we are far from there yet, as I said, unless there is a drastic change or new new invention. You simply think you needed to store all those information, because it is so powerful, but by doing so you increased a lot of the hassle forgetting that PDA is to help you tackle the tasks on hand, right here right now. People compare their PDA by how much new tricks they can do, ask them “do you take notes or to-do list on it?” I bet most would say “it can”.

For me, “pleasure of writing”, scribble freely and under my control, show the notes under sunlight to 3-4 people at the same time, fax, copy, scan, print…. everything is so readily available to support me and my little notebook.

Notebook: Click your pen, write.
PDA: Switch on PDA, pull out the stylus, go to program, File-new, scribble, File-save (maybe auto now). Hassle. Further, I remember where to look for my previous notes by visual memory and flipping. On a PDA you need to rely on the search function, you simply cannot search for scribbles. Now, what if I want to print out that scribble? Do I use connection cable to sync first, or find a printer that support infra-red printing, or connect through bluetooh or wireless network…. Do I need that many options to simple duplicate something I wrote? Most things I needed to jot are short and to the point and temporary, there really is no need to use an electronic device to do that.

All I need to attend day to day mobile tasks are really simple: take notes and followup. I do carry my very useful Blackberry and send/receive email anywhere I feel comfortable including dozens of business trips around the world. That fulfilled my immediate purpose also. The rest of my digital life is Mac.

My Mobile Suit Schedule: Moleskine weekly diary 2005 Notes taking: Moleskine pocket size blank notebook Email/Phone#: Blackberry Word/Excel/Presentation/OfficeNetwork: Powerbook 12″

On top of the above, I love to put things down on paper artistically, especially my thoughts and feelings and dreams. The texture of paper, the way ink or paint behave differently on paper, the millions of possible ways to use one page…. these aspects seems irreplaceable by digital. So after over 10 years of struggle with digital devices, I came back to pen and paper for certain tasks and personal enjoyment, and digital for the inevitable.

Finally, I thought of using CrossPad (IO Pen’s previous incarnation?) but that too added hassle more than practical. So: 1. PDA industry is completely wrong in trying to put everything into one device, people need cup to drink, camera to shoot, movie to go…. not one monster. 2. Merging of paper and digital. I heard that a new class of display in the form of thin film should be out very soon, but the “pleasure of writing” element is still really not there. Besides, nobody steal notebook and I can lose it and replace it pretty easily. 3. Magazine digital. I subscribe to Zinio for MacWorld, PCMagazine and Harvard Business review. It is good that I can archive all issues digitally in perfect condition, but I do sometimes buy hardcopy of Harvard Business Review for my business trip airplane, toilet, hotel reading pleasure.

Thanks, Patrick. And for those of you interested, there’s still a couple of weeks to submit your entry for his art competion.

A New Digital Pen From Logitech

Logitech announced today it has upgraded its digital pen, the io Pen, with the io2 Digital Writing System, which features “a refined, slimmer digital pen design — thanks to the shrinking of internal technology — along with more paper options and enhanced handwriting recognition that is now part of the core offering”.

The Logitech io2 Digital Writing System will be available beginning in late September through retailers in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. The suggested retail price in the U.S. is $200. Logitech launched the io Pen early last year and then about a year ago upgraded its software to include handwriting recognition.

Maybe this kind of thing is catching on. A computer products distributor, Synnex Corp, said last month it planned to release a wireless computer pen that would let “users write notes on paper that are also simultaneously captured in digital form and can be later uploaded to a PC”, according to the East Bay Business Times.

Update: The Logitech Pen Goes Further

 Folks, this blog won’t be updated as regularly as usual as I’m on the road. But here’s something for those of you who either bought the Logitech io digital pen, or were thinking about it: a free software update that includes handwriting recognition, meaning you can search through everything you write — before you could do so only through text that you had entered into fiddly little boxes. You can also convert handwritten stuff to digital text.
 
I haven’t tried this out yet, but existing users can download it for free.
  

Column: the future of the PDA

Loose Wire: The Future’s in Your Handheld
 
By Jeremy Wagstaff , 6 December 2001 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Okay, so my track record as tech visionary isn’t flawless, but bear with me. After all, I’m the guy who thought fold-out keyboards for personal digital assistants, or PDAs, wouldn’t catch on. (In its first year of shipping, United States-based Think Outside Inc. sold more than one million of its Stowaway keyboards, offering 24 different versions and making it the most successful new product for handheld computing ever.)

I’m also the guy who last February described the credit-cardsized Rex personal organizer as “the future.” Its latest owner, Intel Corp., stopped producing them in August. Oh, and I thought installing Windows XP, the latest version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system, was a good idea; I removed it earlier this month when it slowed my programs to a crawl, was fickle in connecting to the Internet and — although I have no concrete proof of this, I’m convinced — invited aliens to take over my PC.

But I’m sure I’ll be proved right on this next prediction: that the PDA represents the future of computing as we know it. These gadgets represent our best chance to make computing an activity that isn’t wed to the environment — from hunting for a power outlet or phone socket to being stuck in the office next to the guy who coughs up fur balls all day. PDAs offer us the chance of being always on, always connected, always updated and, at least in theory, always on time for meetings.

PDAs, however, aren’t quite ready for us yet. Wireless connectivity is still only available to the lucky few. Only a handful of manufacturers have combined the PDA with the handphone and most of those are still operating at the laughably slow speeds provided by the popular Global System for Mobile, or GSM. But this will change — more slowly than we’d like, but it will. New handphones hitting the streets in coming months will make use of 2.5G and GPRS — a halfway house between what you’re used to — GSM — and what you were promised — 3G, or Third Generation wireless telecommunications — which will speed things up.

This will help make the PDA much more than just a toy. If you are able get a decent connection to the company network or the Internet, you won’t just be able to check e-mail and surf. You can synchronize company spreadsheets, contact databases, and update inventories, price lists and orders.

Right now there’s a mismatch between what people want from these things and what they can actually do — and this undermines our faith in them. I packed up my Hewlett-Packard Jornada and its keyboard and headed outside last week to write a column, only to find I couldn’t read the colour screen in bright sunlight. And, unless you’re vaguely techie-ish, chances are you don’t back up all that often, either to your PC or to a flash-memory card, raising the likelihood that you lose all your data on the road to a crash, or you drop it in a nearby swamp.

Still, what really matters is getting software that’s tailored to your needs, however specific. One very useful tool, for example, is a program developed by U.S.-based Firepad Inc. (www.firepad.com) which converts most PC or Mac formats of image and video files to something that can easily be downloaded or viewed on a Palm. This is great for professionals, from engineers to estate agents, who don’t want to lug diagrams, technical manuals, catalogues or blue prints around with them.

There are other reasons PDAs might be about to take off. Screens are getting better — the Palm m505 has an excellent colour screen — while peripherals are getting more useful, from plug-in cameras to GPS tracking devices. Battery life is improving, too: the Compaq iPAQ 3870 is supposed to run for 12 hours or more. Handwriting recognition is also getting better: Microsoft’s Transcribe software comes preloaded on the latest Pocket PCs, allowing users to write longhand on the screen and their scribblings to be interpreted into digital text on the fly.

This isn’t going to happen tomorrow. And because it’s me predicting it, it may well not happen at all. But if we can get our heads around it, we may find that the humble PDA may end up being more productive than our desktop PC by doing what we want it to do, when we want it to. Especially if you have to abandon your desktop PC to aliens.