“When is the pen mightier than the keyboard?”

I attended a lecture recently with this title given by Andreis Van Dam from Brown University. It was a demonstration lecture on computer software applications his research team is developing which uses a pen rather than a mouse or a keyboard to interact with the software. The demonstrations were amazing to say the least and I was awed and inspired by what I saw.

Dr. Van Dam said that pen-centric computing takes advantage of the pen which is more than a high resolution mouse. The pen interprets “digital ink” in an appropriate context for characters, symbols, gestures, etc. He said that the best example of this so far is how the Palm Pilot feature called “graffiti” that interprets users’ gestures for alphanumeric characters. He also said that pen-centric computing is best if it is used with speech and other modes.

One application he showed us was one in which you can write music. You use a pen on something like a tablet PC and you make simple gestures to indicate the notes you want. So how do users know which gestures to make? Well, the software is designed so that the gestures correspond to what they are already familiar with in that given context. One thing that was suprising was that users are only willing to learn 12 new gestures: they are not willing to spend alot of time learning all the gestures, especially if the gestures are unintuitive.

I will write more entries on this lecture at a later time.


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