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Old 12-28-2005, 09:21 AM   #1
Bob Russell
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Paper-like notepads... The one remaining killer app for PDAs

Mike Rohde is an amazing artist. I love his sketches, and he has a lot of good ideas also. In a recent post, he shares his version of something I've been longing for over the years, and provides a clever twist or two on it.

The basic idea is to have a pda-like moleskine pad. He's been a big fan of those things to draw on, and now presents some neat ideas for making it electronic. The key innovations I noticed are the concept of using e-paper and generating an RSS feed out of the pages. You can find it all right here at Rohdesign. Pretty slick!

All this gets me thinking more about the whole idea of decent notepad functionality on a pda. I've been wanting to see a pda work reasonably well as a small notepad using the screen and digitizer. But it doesn't work well with current models. In fact, I've been compaining about the resolution of digitizers on PDAs for years. I don't think it even matches the display resolutions. That makes it MISERABLE to sketch or write freehand on a PDA screen, and that's why the sofware support for using a pda as a notepad is so bad.

If you could use your pda as effectively as a paper notepad that you stick in your pocket (or even just adequately), I think that alone could be a killer app that drives pda sales sky high. And put a phone and full fledged pda in it as well and it could be something that is as common as basic cell phones are today.

Earlier this year, I asked Michael Mace, CCO of PalmSource at the time, about this concept, and it turned out to be something he was big on also. But in typical Michael Mace fashion, he had already taken the idea a step further (see my interview here). He talks about partial OCR, that's doesn't have to be good enough to transcribe, but just has to be good enough to get "most" words. Then it can index all your handwritten notes. Pretty amazing and incredibly useful. Maybe finally something better than paper notepads!

And now that I've had some more time to think about it, I can add my own twist to the mix. Until handhelds are much more powerful, all you need for the OCR processing is to use desktop indexing that works overnight after you sync from the cradle. Then a morning sync gives you the indexing results, or you pick up the indexes when you sync the next night (you probably won't have much trouble finding things you wrote as recently as the previous day anyway). Surely a desktop PC can do a decent job of the necessary OCR already. Remember it just needs to catch most of the words, not all of them. The indexes may not be complete, but they will sure be helpful. And as long as you pick out just one of the words it does index properly, you have access to that page without having to know the date you wrote it.

I believe that done well, this is the killer app for pdas and smartphones that all the experts claim no longer exists! Even a device like the new Illiad ER 0100 e-book reader might be an excellent start along these lines with a decent digitizer and a bit more software.

However, it may only come after tablet pcs get popular and then shrink in size until they fit in a pocket. They generally have those active digitizers which I've heard work quite well. I've only used one for a second here and there for a quick scribble, but it does seem nice. For this idea to take off, we'll need something like that in a pocket sized version for handhelds. There are no signs of anything like this on the typical pda or smartphones currently being designed.

So when should we expect something like this? No for a while. But in my opinion, we're talking 5-10yrs, not 20-30yrs. I hope so anyway!

Last edited by BobR; 12-28-2005 at 10:34 AM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 12-28-2005, 01:24 PM   #2
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I use a Nokia SU-1B Anoto based system that lets me save my work as jpegs etc on my PC and on my Palm LifeDrive. All my hand written and PIM based info plus my business documents are now in one place on my LifeDrive
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Old 12-28-2005, 01:26 PM   #3
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Nice handle, Jah!
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Old 12-29-2005, 05:33 AM   #4
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If you have a pocketPC you might try PhatNotes - the quality of the lines and diagrams that can be drawn has to be seen to be believed, and if you have Calligrapher software installed (from the same developer) you can optically recognise hand written notes. A bit pricy but truly excellent software.
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Old 12-29-2005, 05:35 PM   #5
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Phatnotes is quite good, but its not perfect. I like what BobR and mike Rhode are getting at, that really seems like a nice revolution in looking at PDAs as real replacements because the hardware and software arent compromising on ability.

I wonder now if there is a chance of this coming to a current PDA, or PDA soon to come. That would be even better.
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