Tablet computers, for all their strengths, still fail to do the obvious thing: behave like paper. For this reason, creative professionals who write, sketch, or prototype by hand still carry Meads or Moleskines along with their gadgets. Why isn’t digital ink and active digitizer technology standard on tablet devices? Three case studies provide some potential insight.
1. The Apple Newton
In the 1980’s, during the time of Steve Jobs’ exile, Apple Computer created the Newton, the first PDA (personal digital assistant). It functioned most essentially as a digital notepad, with a stylus and revolutionary handwriting recognition and drawing capabilities. The Newton failed to become a mass market device and was cancelled by Steve Jobs upon his return because it failed to jibe with his vision for the Mac’s future, which didn’t include pen input: “It’s like we said on the iPad,” Jobs remarked in 2010, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”
2. The Tablet PC
In 2000, Microsoft unveiled the tablet PC, a notebook-sized slate device with a screen optimized for use with a stylus. A key feature was digital ink. Microsoft assumed digital handwriting would appeal to its core enterprise audience as a content input method, overlooking another potential market: creatives. Fewer than 500,000 Tablet PCs sold in 2003, the first year they were commercially available, and the form factor didn’t catch on with the intended market. “For the general business user,” Forrester Research observed in 2004, “the ability to handwrite messages and take notes without typing on a keyboard is a convenience, not a necessity.”
3. The Courier Device
In 2009, a year before the launch of the iPad, videos of an intriguing prototype surfaced online: Microsoft’s now-cancelled Courier tablet. The Courier was a hinged, book-sized digital journal that combined touch computing and precise pen input with a native stylus, allowing users to combine handwritten notes and collages with digital tasks and gestures.
Microsoft ultimately determined the Courier to be a threat to the Windows operating system and stopped it from launching in a competitive timeframe with the iPad, making it “one of the forms of… technical innovation that are excluded in the name of perfection and empire.”
Neither Microsoft nor Apple has successfully created a true digital notebook because of their commitment to existing revenue engines: for Microsoft, the enterprise worker, who is served by Windows, and for Apple, iPad consumers of what Forrester research calls “a curated computing experience that’s more like a jukebox than a desktop.”
Meanwhile, Moleskine has made a fortune from creatives, who are at the center of their product vision. When will a digital Moleskine arrive for this same audience?