Thursday, March 1, 2001

TapPad takes the #$%~ out of Graffiti

PRODUCT REVIEW

By Richard Cartwright

Have you ever tried to enter a phone number quickly with Graffiti, only to later learn that the number calls Borneo instead of Boston? TapPad (at http://www.tappad.com) helps alleviate this and many other data input problems through the use of a hack and an overlay, which convert the number side of the Graffiti input area into a keypad, as shown in Figure A.

FIGURE A

TapPad converts the number side of the Graffiti input area into a keypad. (click for larger image)

TapPad is compatible with all Palm OS devices except the Palm m100. The overlay also allows document navigation and editing such as cutting, pasting, deleting, and undeleting. I like the "beach ball" spot on the overlay. Tap it, and a menu of frequently used symbols pops up. This is a great improvement on the Graffiti cheat sheet, because you can tap on the desired symbol and insert it at the cursor location. Sure, it requires two stylus motions, the same number that a knowledgeable Graffiti writer would use; but how many of us get it right the first time (assuming we even know the correct Graffiti character for the symbol we want), every time? Not me, and I suspect a lot of other people don't.

TapPad requires the shareware program Hackmaster (at http://www.daggerware.com) to function. Installation of TapPad was quick and easy. If you opt for the demo version, then you'll have to print out a paper overlay. The overlay fits perfectly over the text and number input area of your Palm device. A newly released version of TapPad covers the entire silkscreen area, as shown in Figure B.

FIGURE B

The new TapPad III overlay is shown on a Palm IIIx. (click for larger image)

I chose to take the printed overlay and attach it to the silkscreen area with Concept Kitchen's WriteRight screen protector at http://www.conceptkitchen.com. I then ran the calibration program, and I was finished. The program doesn't have a manual, other than a brief tutorial, but it doesn't need one. It's that easy to use.

I experienced no problems or conflicts with day-to-day use of the program. However, there's a reported conflict with the ThoughtMill outliner at http://www.handshigh.com/html/thoughtmill.html. According to TapPad's creator, John Brochu, "The problem with ThoughtMill is that they use non-standard text fields. No hack that manipulates text fields will work with ThoughtMill, including TapPad." The developers of ThoughtMill are reported to be aware of the issue and are developing a version that does use standard Palm text fields. I used the BrainForest outliner (at http://www.aportis.com/products/BrainForest/benefits.html) and had no problems.

Some individuals on Usenet have complained that the overlays provided with the registered product tend to wear out too fast. I tend to press hard with a stylus, but I haven't had a problem after three months of hard use. However, the company has come out with a tougher overlay, with a more "papery" feel, that will cover the entire silkscreen area. Different versions fit on different devices. Figure C shows the TapPad V overlay on a Palm Vx.