Archive for March, 2006


Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Today on CBC’s “Up To Speed”, they had a business columnist talking about user interfaces. She complained that they shouldn’t need training to figure out how to use a photocopier. She further went on to talk about how the design of Research In Motion (RIM)’s BlackBerry keyboard went through quite a bit of research.

I’m a long time fan of Palm (formerly of 3Com). PalmOS, most Palm
Pilots and HandSpring portable data assistants (PDA’s) have a witting
interface called Graphiti. Grafiti can be used to write with a stylus
(pen like stick), onto a touch sensitive surface. The character language of graphiti is English writing characters, simplified for easier
recognition. This simplified language causes the users to have to learn
it if they want to take advantage of the high speed input. With the
advent of the Palm Treo, a BlackBerry like product, Palm looked at, and
later removed the graphiti capability. Until very recently, one could
download graphiti for the Treo, but without graphiti, stylus input
didn’t make much sense. So the company bowed to pressures and put a qwerty keyboard set of buttons at the bottom of the device. They also shrunk the touch pad area to make more room for this new keyboard.

With my arguments above, it might seem like Palm made a mistake in
adding a keyboard, but maybe not. Requiring a stylus makes one handed operation, difficult or impossible. Generally, this wouldn’t matter, except that the Palm Treo is intended to be used out in the field. In the filed is where people have to carry or hold other things. What though do people need one handed operation for? Primarily just for making calls, or acknowledging/checking incoming messages. If it’s
anything involved or time consuming, wouldn’t people want to free up
their other hand to pay more attention to the device? Of course if they
do that, then one step further is finding a flat surface at elbow hight.
Full size keyboards are by far a faster interface device. One could (and
probably still can), buy and external keyboard for Palm devices. My
personal preference is for Graphiti though, as if I can use a full size
keyboard, I can probably use a full size display, and… well I’d want
to use a laptop or notebook computer.

With laptops being less portable, and not needing one handed operation very often, my preference for Graphiti is strong. The real impractical ideal input would be Voice recognition. Unfortunately, that probably requires more processing power than would be available in a highly portable device (currently).

A month or two ago, at a consumer electronics show, it was announced that the new Palm Treo (the 700?) would run Windows CE. Besides the luggage that Microsoft’s Windows platforms have carried with them, I’m not aware of any version of Graphiti for Windows CE. It would be unfair for me to say that Windows CE likely requiring battery depleting hardware would be three strikes. Without the budget to buy a new Palm Treo, or use any of the extremely overpriced wireless data services for it, I probably won’t be researching which of those three strikes, if any aren’t true, or can be overlooked.

With doing research into real time operating systems, and cheap
alternatives to Windows XP, I’ve started to have a reason to look into
Windows CE. What’s really given me a peak into Windows CE is that
Microsoft Visual Studio .Net 2003 (and VC8 AKA MSVS 2005) shows help for CE library functions before any other results (and usually brings it up in such a way that one has to hunt to find the non-CE results).

From the Microsoft developer’s network (MSDN)’s help, I’ve found that
Windows CE supports many of the same functions as are available to most Windows applications. This means it might be easy to translate or port programs to the Windows CE platform. That’s not quite a home run, as there still is some work required for porting. Still the prospect of having many applications for the Windows CE platform might make it as popular as the PalmOS platform. When looking at the Treo 600, the salesperson commented to me that one of the reasons that people preferred the Treo’s over the Blackberry, was the number of applications for it. Certainly that has been a factor for people choosing Windows over MacOS or Linux in the past (now most Windows applications can be run on those platforms). I haven’t seen much of a developer community around the blackberry, but there may be one.

Windows CE might be called Windows Mobile now. Microsoft has split their products in many different ways these days, and renamed old products several times. Product names has been a problem for me in determining what it does, and how it’s different from other products. I’m a developer with a subscription to MSDN’s stuff, and I although I read and write Microsoft based things almost every work day, I still can’t keep track. I think however, I’m well ahead of the average user. The easiest way to learn about the products is to use them. Maybe someone might pick up the tab for me to get a new Palm Treo and give it a work out.

I’d like to write more about Voice Recognition, battery consumption,
and research the unknowns above, but I’ll save that for later.

Drew Daniels Resume:

Originally from: