Last spring, I launched into a rant on my personal blog (due to some minor profanity, the linked-to article is labeled as not safe for work) over the way the tech media was labeling a lot of the activity that was going on in the tablet market. You see, back then, circa May 2011, the pockets of resistance against the iPad were beginning to fade, and people were starting to get it that this tablet thing was more than just a passing fad…. A lot of the media took the route of not simply articulating the iPad’s strengths, but had to declare it great by putting down previously launched products, most notably the TabletPC. While I recognize that I may be in the minority, I will continue to say that these journalists made and continue to make a big whiff when they cite the presence or use of a stylus as a sign of automatic failure — as Steve Jobs asserted during the launch of the first iPhone. I respect Jobs, but his penchant for making binary statements, such as the one he made about what the presence of a stylus indicates, was never something that I agreed with. Ditto for anyone else who follows that philosophy.
Today, I am ecstatic to see companies finally having the spine to challenge that myopic perspective. One of the dynamics that I have always been wary of is the fact that most reviews and tech opinions on devices do not come from people who are like a lot of common Joes. Content creation and journalism is far and away from engineering, finance, and manufacturing. So when things are said like, “tablets are devices that are only suited for media consumption and not productivity”, I note that this is a perspective from people who spend most of their days doing content creation. Not sitting in one board meeting after another, or out maintaining equipment in the field. For me, a tablet is indispensable as a portable means of taking notes and recalling data. Add that I do not want to be ‘that guy’ in a board meeting tacking away on a keyboard, especially when you are not the senior person in the meeting; a sentiment that I see being taken on by more and more workers and students. It is a also lot easier to take notes with digital ink and remain engaged in a conversation. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m not particularly engaged in a conversation when I am hacking away on a keyboard.
We start to learn to write with devices that are analogous to a stylus from a very early age. Crayons. Pencils. Chalk. Markers. Pens. And while children are now exposed to a keyboard at a much earlier age, I still do not buy that typing on a keyboard is a more intuitive thinking experience than writing. If it honestly was, then there would be far less paper these days. And for all the discussion from the technoratti insisting on the value of a keyboard over a stylus and writing, I still see most journalists at meetings and press events scribbling into a moleskin notebook or equivalent rather than walking around with a laptop and typing standing up.
One thing to note in the remainder of this discussion is that I have mentioned before the bifurcation of the digital ink community over natural handwriting versus handwriting recognition. Again, I have never understood the declaration of handwriting recognition as a minimum requirement in a digital inking platform, so the recommendations below are based on just writing. I know that some people want handwriting recognition so that their notes are searchable, but it is not a feature that has ever been a requirement for me personally.
So, how do you get your digital ink groove on and replace all those sticky notes littering your apartment, desk, and office in the year 2012? It is not easy, and without a handy guide to give you some shortcuts, it can be a demoralizing, painful experience. Because I have endured some of this pain (and the expense associated with it), I thought I would jot down a few nuggets I have discovered in my search for the best fit digital inking experience.
What options were there? Any of these options might be a good fit for you. I have used some of these devices, and many have only been temporary fits. That does not inherently mean that they were insufficient. Review them all, pick what is best for you, and if you have more questions, please ask in the comments.