In a post about the eBook design of the next-generation OLPC, John Biggs of TechCrunch thinks he’s figured out why Tablet PCs haven’t faired well, but an eBook design like this will.
“A laptop is an interactive tool. An ebook, even if it’s just a glorified, dual screen laptop, is a reading tool. That is why tablet PCs never took off in the mainstream: people don’t know what to do with a form factor that is clearly not a laptop yet is also clearly a powerful computer. There is no way to connect the act of “scratching out words on a tablet” to processing worksheets in a spreadsheet. Why doesn’t the iPhone have handwriting recognition? Because it’s a horrible way to talk to a computer, even now.”
First, I don’t see any reason why a dual-Slate eBook can’t be everything a Slate is and support interactive workbooks–not just read-only material. Second, most Tablet PCs today are convertibles and are pretty much indistinguishable to most people from standard laptops–outside of when the screen is folded down in Tablet mode. And third, the iPhone is a Slate form factor (no permanently attached physical keyboard) and not a full-fledged laptop and it’s doing quite well. So there’s more to all of this than simply whether something is a laptop or not, which has been the conventional wisdom.
Now in terms of handwriting recognition and pen input: What better place is there to support this than in schools? A very good discussion we should have is whether everything should be designed around the keyboard and mouse as our input devices in schools. Should we design programs so that typing an equation with a square root is as easy as typing a word? I can conceive of a program that does this, but is this really the best way to go? I don’t think so. Likewise, what about brainstorming and the arts and, well, doodling. Should everything be so keyboard focused? Again, I don’t think so, yet I can see a world like this evolving.
I’m betting, however, that as software becomes more interactive and devices with other forms of input more common, that we won’t see the keyboard and mouse as the best and only ways to interact with our content. After all, it’s the content that should be kind–not the keyboard, nor the mouse.