Sunday, March 11, 2007

RitePen Does Me Wrong

This is not a rant against EverNote's RitePen. EverNote is a great company that makes great products (including RitePen). This is an essay about user interfaces and UMPC's and what solutions work best and when. In case you've never used RitePen it is a simple utility that allows you to ink anywhere on the screen at any time and then automatically converts that ink to text. For anyone who has used a browser on a UMPC this potentially solves a glaring problem: inputting text into fields.

Setting up the use case: Because the screen real estate on a UMPC is mere precious than a home with a yard in San Francisco, I always surf in full screen mode.

Knowing this, here's the out of the box experience you'll go through to surf to a page:

  1. Hit F11 to exit full screen mode.
  2. Click the TIP icon in the task bar.
  3. Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  4. Enter a URL in TIP and hit enter.
  5. Close the TIP.
  6. Hit F11 to enter full screen mode again.

Now some will say that I should simply keep the TIP open and the screen out of full-screen at all times but this results in about 75% of the screen taken up by the TIP, browser title bar, menu bar, command bar and status bar and leaves only 25% of the screen for actual content. Not acceptable. So here's where RitePen can clear things up.

Remember that RitePen allows me to ink anywhere on the screen at anytime and automatically converts the ink strokes to text. This means the RitePen experience should ideally go something like this (remember we're already in full-screen mode):

  1. Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  2. Write the URL directly on the screen using RitePen's digital ink. RitePen converts the ink to text and automatically inserts the text into the URL field.
  3. Write the enter key gesture directly on the screen to start the search.

This is a much better user experience. It permits us to remain in full-screen mode and eliminate 3 steps. Basically, the RitePen use case follows the same steps we'd follow if we entered the URL using a standard keyboard for input. Only we are inking instead of typing. This is desirable from a use interface perspective.

So how did RitePen do me wrong? As they say "God is in the details" In this case the details are found in how RitePen handles errors in recognition which unfortunately I find happens more often than using the built-in TIP recognizer . The real use case went something like this:

  • Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  • Write the URL directly on the screen using RitePen's digital ink. RitePen converts the ink to text and automatically inserts the text into the URL field.
  • The recognized text is incorrect. A floating correction window appears with a list of alternate spellings none of which is what you wrote.
  • As you try to find the correct word from the list the popup window fades away into oblivion...
  • You are left with the incorrect URL in the URL text field so you highlight the text and write the URL again on the screen only to find it is misrecognized again but in a different way.
  • You exit full-screen mode.
  • Turnoff RitePen in the task bar.
  • Click the TIP icon in task bar to open the TIP.
  • Enter the URL and hit enter.
  • Close the TIP.
  • Enter full-screen.

The problem with RitePen is with its correction window which pops up after every recognition. Unlike TIP, there is no correcting along the way. With RitePen you write everything on the screen in one fell swoop and then pray to the recognition gods that it comes back correct. If it doesn't you're going to have to struggle with using their popup correction window.

Problems with the correction popup: First it cuts away too quickly. While this is adjustable I found it difficult to strike a balance between staying on screen long enough to click it and "pin" it down when I need it and short enough to not be a nuisance when no correction is needed. Second, it is difficult to add a delete characters. Correcting an individual character is easy but it is frustratingly difficult to add or delete a letter at the end of the word or phrase and almost impossible to do so in the middle of a word. These limitations mean you'll find yourself closing RitePen's correction window and simply trying it again or using the TIP.

The moral of the story is this: If RitePen's recognition were better you would have a great user experience... but it isn't and their correction implementation is seriously flawed leaving us with a worse use case then simply sticking with the built-in TIP.

In my next posting Ill share the ideal solution I've found for entering text in a browser.


Anonymous said...

hi neil,
obviously it is hard to reach you. i would like to talk to you about some things again. you can reach me at my old company email adress. clausnitzer@...

looking forward to hearing from you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Neil,
This is Fawn Lerner-Gilli (your old classmate from Pearl Street School who also played violin in Marion)-you lived on Girard Ave. and I lived on Cherry Street. I am a school teacher at Dunbar Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, FL. We are a Math/Science/Technology school. I read about all your involvement with technology. Would you be willing to share information or time with our school? I am happy for your success and hard work. I am glad you are doing well. You may contact me at or