[David Spark (@dspark) is a veteran tech journalist and the founder of Spark Media Solutions, a storytelling and social media production company that specializes in live event production. He blogs at Spark Minute and can be seen regularly on KQED and John C. Dvorak's Cranky Geeks.]
Thirteen years ago, in 1997, I wrote an article for Family PC magazine (a now-defunct Ziff Davis publication) about dictation software. That was the year programs such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking and IBM ViaVoice had turned a critical corner in their respective capabilities. No longer did you have to dictate in an unnatural slow paused pattern (e.g. “Take…A…Letter”). You could now speak naturally (e.g. “Take a letter”) and the program would seamlessly enter your words with 90-plus percent accuracy.
At that point, myself and many others in the industry thought that voice dictation would be a game changer. The technology and publicity was fantastic. Actor Richard Dreyfuss was a staunch supporter, mentioning Dragon’s software on The Tonight Show. Voice dictation seemed like a perfect technological interface solution for human-to-PC communications. When we’re born, speech is one of the first forms of communications we learn, so let’s train computers to adapt to a human’s way of communicating. It sounded like a slam dunk solution, but there was one problem…
We’ve become comfortable communicating with keyboards.
Outside of stories of people with carpal tunnel that can’t type for long hours (e.g. David Pogue of the NYTimes), I don’t know of one person that uses voice dictation software. I’m sure by making that statement I’ll see a flurry of people leave comments announcing, “I use voice dictation software and I love it!” But before any of you readers see those comments, do you know of anyone that uses voice dictation software?
This is not a slam against dictation software. Over the past 13 years, the technology has gotten better and better, and it truly is amazing. If it’s truly that fantastic, how come so few people use it? The reason is we’ve become comfortable thinking and working with a keyboard. As I’m writing this article I pause between each sentence. I think about it for a while and then write. I go up a couple of paragraphs and edit something I see that’s wrong. While voice dictation software affords all those pauses and editing capabilities, I just don’t feel comfortable writing by speaking out loud. I’m comfortable thinking and writing behind a keyboard.
Can we become comfortable with the iPad?
The success of dictation software’s technology yet failure of implementation got me to thinking about the future of the iPad. While there have been some quibbles about the iPad’s capabilities such as a lack of a video camera and the lack of Flash, the device requires a behavioral shift. While I like the idea personally, I don’t know if I can make the shift. And will others be willing and ready to change their behavior?
Watch Apple’s video of the device in action and you’ll be led to believe that they’ve thoroughly thought out the iPad experience. It’s a “go with you wherever” media and communications device. You can consume media naturally like you would a book or newspaper, and you can compose messages using the onscreen interface. But what the video doesn’t show you is all the decisions you’ll have to start making about your lifestyle if you choose to carry this device with you.
If you purchase an iPad, here are the decisions you’ll have to start making:
- Do I pay for more carrier service? I’m paying for mobile carrier service and triple-play phone-Internet-Cable/IPTV service. Now I have to pay for iPad’s 3G service if I don’t want to be restricted to Wi-Fi?
- Do I carry my notebook computer, mobile phone, and iPad with me everywhere? Each one has capabilities that the other device doesn’t have. If I can leave one device at home, which would it be? Probably the iPad.
- This on screen keyboard is definitely not as fast as a traditional keyboard. I know I can purchase a keyboard attachment, but at that point, why do I need an iPad? I can just use my notebook computer.
- The iPad is mostly a media consumption device. When computing I flow seamlessly between media consumption, media creation, work, and communications. With the iPad’s keyboard being that much slower, and the lack of multitasking, I won’t be able to move that quickly among all and it will probably become frustrating.
Could the iPad be another example of a technology like voice dictation that’s so impressive from a technological and human interface perspective, yet fails because other technology (most notably the keyboard) has trained us to communicate differently?