I picked up a Fly Pentop the other to play with (one of the advantages of being a user interface researcher is all the toys :). Here're a few thoughts.
There're at least four challenges with using a real ink pen as a computer interface:
In spite of these limitations, it's extremely engaging to be able to draw your own functional user interface — as anyone who read Harold and the Purple Crayon or watched Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings as a kid knows. The effect really hit me when I was making a calculator. First I wrote the letter "C" and circled it to enter calculator mode. Then, as the pen spoke instructions to me, I drew a big rectangle and started to fill it with numbers and arithmetic symbols. I realized about three numbers in that I didn't have to stick to the usual layout and placed the rest of the numbers going up, down and sideways. Then I tapped on the numbers with the pen to type out 22 + 44..." only to discover I'd forgotten to draw an equals sign. I quickly drew one in, then tapped it to hear the pen speak "22 + 44 equals 66". It was as if I were running from something in the land of chalk drawings and someone suggested we draw a door so we could escape!
The interface also feels more magical than it would if it were implemented on a tablet PC. This could be a novelty effect — I'm used to paper being static and non-functional and computer screens being reactive — but I think it's also because it feels like the pen is reacting to my physical environment, rather than simply reacting to the way I interact with it. When I interact with a tablet PC, I think of the computer as being the screen (even if the actual CPU is somewhere else). With the Fly, I think of the pen and speaker as being the device, but not the paper. That means even though a tablet PC and the pentop computer might implement the exact same interface, I feel more of an emotional attachment with the pen because it appears to be observing and sharing my external environment and not just the actions I perform directly on the device.Posted by bug to Media Technology at November 25, 2005 11:40 PM | TrackBack