Pen Input Matures

User interface – At the Touch Gesture Motion Conference held October 28-30, 2014 in Austin, Texas, Rick Seger of N-trig presented a Pen Input Tutorial on Tuesday October 28 as well as a presentation entitled Beyond Touch on Wednesday October 29.  

In his tutorial, Rick cited a number of academic studies (see for example) supporting the notion that note taking using handwriting captured by pen input better supports learning than does note taking using a keyboard-equipped notebook computer.  I was interested to see that Rick included the results of human usability and effectiveness testing in his presentation on pen input.  In evaluating the effectiveness and importance of user interface developments, I strongly believe that it is important to undertake human factors studies in assessing and comparing alternative user interface modalities.

In his tutorial, Rick Seger reviewed and discussed the several digital pen technologies that are shipping or under development including Electro-Magnetic Resonance (EMR), Active Capacitive (Electro-static), Smart ink pens (traditional ink w/communications to host), Ultrasonic and others, contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of each.  Rick went on to discuss his view on the current competition between active versus passive pen input with his opinion clearly leaning toward the active pen approach taken by N-trig.

Rick Seger next went on to address user experience (UX) matters of pen input.  He cited the key developer challenges driving pen input user experience as pressure sensitivity, accuracy and precision, linearity and tilt accuracy, hover and low parallax, palm rejection, function buttons, and “precision pen feel “ in no particular order.  Rick addressed the physical design of the pen including the comment that how the tip, or nib “feels” directly impacts the user experience, and that it must be optimized for friction and matched to the digitizer surface to optimize the feel of the pen.  He went on to discuss in considerable detail the need to capture handwriting at writing velocities as high as 50 cm/sec that drives the need for low lag system design in order to provide good hand eye co-ordination and user experience.  Rick concluded by discussing topics including hover detection, pen pressure sensing, advanced palm rejection, pen signal simulation models, and the lack of industry standard pen input performance testing methods.

During his TGM Conference presentation on Wednesday, he provided some additional examples of the application and use of pen input particularly for use by students at all levels.  Rick used examples from his children’s actual school papers and notes to illustrate these use cases (illustration below). The use of pen input in the education space is clearly a topic that Rick Seger feels strongly about.


Source: N-trig

As new products such as Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 3 with an active pen illustrate, pen input is set to enter the mainstream.  – Phil Wright