Over the past few days, two seemingly unrelated topics converged upon me and sparked some wishful thinking.
First, there’s a mounting roar of media buzz about Apple working to get a tablet PC to market by the Christmas shopping season. It’s speculated that this book-sized, 3G-enabled, 10-inch touch screen tablet computer will have more in common with the Mac than iPod Touch or iPhone at the operating system level.
Apple’s new device is said to feature only an on-screen keyboard rather than a physical one, so it’s seems a given that this device will offer handwriting recognition, which is a mature user interface technology that’s been employed in Windows-based tablet PCs over the past few years. Despite being a surprisingly accurate means of entering text, handwriting recognition really hasn’t found its way out of the niche market because tablet PCs have never been widely adopted.
The second topic, the death of cursive writing, has been talked about for the past few years, but has been getting lots more buzz in the blogs just recently. Increasingly, the news media continues to forecast the demise of cursive writing, calling the once-essential skill now something as quaint as, well, using a telephone to actually speak to people.
I’ve long since been concerned that the loss of handwriting could mean a loss of cognitive opportunity for kids and I’m a big advocate of kids being exposed to analog technologies. So, the ideas of Apple’s forthcoming device and handwriting recognition sort of snapped together like perfect puzzle pieces for me and I’ve become kind of excited considering the possibility…
Maybe Apple can save handwriting!
And why not? Apple has certainly revitalized & catapulted other languishing technologies in its wake. The iPod was by no means the first MP3 player. The iPhone wasn’t the first touchscreen PDA — it wasn’t even the first multi-touch device, although they spun that little-known user interface into mainstream gold overnight. Album art has been around since the invention of the record, but Cover Flow made it cool again. Yup, Apple has a distinguished history of reusing & breathing new life into overlooked or underestimated technologies.
So maybe Steve Jobs & Co. can take handwriting recognition out of its obscure little niche and elevate it to an attractive, mainstream user interface element too. Perhaps Apple could reinvent cursive writing as a valued technology once again.
What do you think? Is handwriting worth saving? Will Apple’s release of a tablet with handwriting recognition have similar far-reaching ripples to bring handwriting back from the brink of extinction?