Vivek Haldar

If you see a stylus, they blew it. Not.

Steve Jobs is famous for saying “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” I think he is wrong because of the following:

Every time I sit down to think something through with pen and paper, I make so much more progress and have so much more clarity of thought, in a much shorter amount of time, compared to using any electronic device.

The downside, of course, is that paper is analog. It has life separate from your digital universe, which by now is most of your universe.

The solution isn’t to make screens and keyboards behave more like paper. The better way to go is to think of ways to make the act of moving a pen–like instrument across a flat surface something that can be digitized.

One way to do that would be to make the surface, the “paper”, digital. This is the approach that Windows tablet PCs took in the last decade. You could use a stylus to write on the screen itself. The handwriting recognition was smart enough that your notes could be searched just like text, perfectly integrating them into your digital world.

Unfortunately, Tablet PCs faded, largely because they treated the stylus as a poor 2nd class citizen, shoehorning it into the regular mouse and pointer and clicking based Windows UI, without trying to make an interface that felt more natural with a pen. Also, tablet PCs were basically just Windows laptops with capacitive screens–not the lightest and easiest things to carry around.

Another approach is to make the instrument, the pen, digital. This is what Livescribe has done. You use one of their pens to write on regular paper1, and it captures what you wrote. Later, you can connect the pen to your computer, and get an electronic copy of everything you wrote or doodled.

Having an electronic pen and using it with analog paper has a bunch of advantages over having an electronic screen. When you’re actually writing, paper is a lot more convenient than the screen. Also, the pen is much smaller and easier to carry around. I’ve been using this for about a year, and I love it.

  1. You do need paper that has special micro dots printed on it. You can either buy this from Livescribe, or simply print it yourself. ↩︎