clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Marginal at Best

Pens above from KingKongFive from wikicommons.

I spent the equivalent of three new Moleskin notebooks on a very nice stylus and a couple writing apps on the iPad (4th gen) that I've used for about 90 days now.  I borrow a couple of styli from a friend. I tested these devices and four of the note applications for the iPad.

My hope was that the new  pens would allow the interface to be a kind of electronic journal capable of receiving handwritten notes about various projects and of providing some searchable organization beyond the current physical-folder-and-file system I use.

Not a chance.

I'm not able to send even the pdf of some demonstration documents without violating my own security protocols so you'll have to take my assessment on faith.

The interface is poor for writing. The precision with which one can produce solid cursive is limited by the near lack of resistance from the glass contact surface. It's too bloody slick for the sort of muscle memory most of us have to render proper loops. My "e" and "i" and "r" characters are indistinguishable. Transcription or review will be that much more difficult and so notes would be used less than necessary - given that we wanted them for the very utility of not remembering the precise turn of a phrase we craft now when we need it later.

None of my children take notes in cursive or have anything resembling legible script. Let's look at - gasp - printing for those who really didn't master 2nd grade.

With a fast style of printing, the interface with a stylus will remind you of printing with a dicey fountain pen. The smoothing functions and the lack of almost any resistance again provide inconsistent strokes. Also, the capacitance screens are not good at instantly establishing input contact. They do better maintaining contact in cursive than establishing it on every stroke in printing. The contact of the pen on glass with the jot pro makes too much noise for practical use printing. At least, I'd throw you out of a meeting for it. I'd hear your writing on the speakerphone in a conference call if you sat very close at all. Unless you are junior staff at the far end of the table or the second row, this is too noisy for use.

Other styli work with less noise but at the cost of much less precision which is right back at the heart of the matter : notes need to be quick to record, reliably rendered, and effortlessly read.

The iPad doesn't completely hit the mark for notes. It's close and if your comparison is - say - scratches on wax tablets or triangular punches in a surface of damp clay rather than clear ink on white paper ...well. You might be satisfied.

I've given the lecture that a map with a bullet hole in it is still a strategic document. You can read it, navigate with it, and bring the regiment into battle order using it. A computer screen bullet hole in it is a tactical document : you can hit the enemy with it and cause damage if you can manage to locate him.

I believe one could import a .pdf document and use the writing interfaces to perform reasonably good mark-up. This seems a quite good utility use. Your annotations really jump off the page.

Of course, if like me you edit from paper and flip around in the pages a lot, the electronic sequential advance features are an obstacle (much like those useless sequential transmissions sold in performance automobiles ...don't engineers ever drive the bloody things ?). They aren't insurmountable but they'd be a change to how you do things now. Oh - pulling a staple and laying four pages side-by-side is right out.

I suggest buying a decent pen (the interface renders the 6mm tips of most stylus the equivalent of a chisel-tip marker. The adonit jot pro is much more precise in manual use but the interface renders it little more effective than others in practice), some new moleskin notebooks, and using a page or two at the beginning as an index on the content you create. Even - gasp - numbering pages as you advance through the book seems to solve many of the organizational problems which we wish would be solved with technology. Namely - we writers are often asking "where did I have that X ?".

I'm going back to fountain pen for my notes because I have several, like using them ("special") and can find this tactile pleasure sufficient motivation to take more detailed and complete notes.

The iPad is not a content creation device and few have such illusions.

As a note platform, it's dicey.

Some functionality can be nicely tweaked from it but the utility of pen and paper is not yet there. Oh, you CAN use it if you desire. It can be made to work with some limitations. However, I'd like it to "work" rather than altering my style so that it "can be made to work."

If you haven't yet developed a style or pace of note-taking ( I write in small script on paper very very quickly), then the iPad can be adapted. If taking notes requires you to interrupt your natural flow for the medium you are using, I view this as sub-optimal.

The iPad is lovely for content consumption. It is still behind the utility curve for content creation.

Don't get writerly ideas and confuse one function for the other.

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