The keyboard has been the standard human/machine interface since the introduction of the practical and useful personal computer in the early 1980s. A few years later, the mouse was added as a complement to the keyboard, and the modern graphical user interface was born and accepted as standard. But if Microsoft has anything to say about it, that well-known standard interface may be old-fashioned before you know it.
In part because of our newfound desire for mobile computing and in part because of our continuing search for a better way to do things, the standard keyboard and mouse interface may be giving way to new, more intuitive interfaces—and paradoxically, much older interfaces, like the pen and handwriting.
Put it in Ink
While Cortana, Microsoft's digital personal assistant, may be getting most of the attention, arguably the most significant addition to the interface tools at our disposal is the digital pen and software that allows users to interact with a touch screen computer in new and productive ways.
In August 2016, Microsoft showcased several new capabilities for Ink when used in combination with OneNote. The first improvement expands on the concept of "simply pick up your pen and write" with the added ability for OneNote to understand and interpret a handwritten algebraic equation. Not only does OneNote convert the handwritten equation into text, but it can also teach you how to solve it.
As a bit of a savant in high school algebra in my formative years, this technology may have been more confusing than helpful, but as an older person who has forgotten much of what he learned so many years ago, I can see great potential in this technology as a teaching tool. Students could practice solving algebraic expressions over and over again with their computers showing them step by step how it is done.
When you combine the ability to solve equations with Ink's ability to record pen strokes, you have the building blocks for a real teaching tool. Microsoft Ink could be more important to the success of mobile devices and interactive displays than anyone can possibly imagine at this stage of the technology's development.
Few people have been as skeptical as I when it comes to the promise of pen and touch display technology. As far as I have been concerned, no pen or personal digital assistant can come close to the productive efficiency of my keyboard and mouse interface skills. But Microsoft, and the other companies making strides in innovative computer interfaces, may prove me wrong yet.
The improvements in Ink software, and its increased ability to convert handwritten notes into text and to interpret the context of what is written, is remarkable. The technology has become much more sophisticated and therefore actually useful. Microsoft Ink, and technologies like it, are transforming how we interact with a computer and are opening up new ways of accessing the power of a computational device.
While I still maintain a healthy bit of skepticism about new interfaces like Ink and Cortana, I am starting to see the potential and starting to get excited about what the future may bring in this area. Perhaps it is time reconsider our preference for the keyboard and mouse combo?
- Microsoft Office 365: The smart person's guide
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4: The smart person's guide
- Microsoft is researching virtual interfaces to replace the keyboard and mouse
- MIT and Microsoft create tattoos that turn your skin into a UI for your phone
Do you still doubt the usefulness of the digital pen interface? Do you stand by your preference for a keyboard and mouse? Share your opinion with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.