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W3C's InkML "Digital Ink" For New Application Data

Launched earlier this month, the Ink Markup Language (InkML) Recommendation is the W3C's latest "digital ink" initiative for the storage and exchange of electronic pen or stylus output. Laid down as part of the W3C's efforts to build "one web available from any device", InkML is hoped to help support new applications such as online collaborative whiteboards, handwritten annotations, and other "new media" content.

"Pen input is a very natural way to use a device, whether for controlling the device, inputting information, or communicating with other people," said Debbie Dahl, chair of the Multimodal Interaction Working Group.

"It's an especially compelling input mode for the variety of touchscreen-based devices that are currently entering the marketplace. But until now, pen input formats were largely proprietary, and so interoperability across devices and applications was limited. InkML changes this. It will be exciting to see how InkML enables new, interoperable, and innovative applications based on handwriting, drawing, and symbols," added Dahl.

The W3C insists that when used in combination, pen and voice (and other input methods) can improve usability. For example, with combined pen and speech input, users can ask questions like "show me restaurants in this area" while drawing a circle on a map.

While analyst commentary on the subject of so-called approaches to Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and device input paradigms is comparatively thin on the ground, the Multimodal Interaction Working Group's openly stated charter (below) makes for interesting further background on this subject.

"The primary goal of this group is to develop W3C Recommendations that enable multimodal interaction with various devices including desktop PCs, mobile phones, and less traditional platforms such as cars and intelligent home environments. For rapid adoption on a global scale, it should be possible to add simple multimodal capabilities to existing markup languages in a way that is backwards compatible with widely deployed devices, and which builds upon widespread familiarity with existing web technologies. The standards should be scalable to enable richer capabilities for subsequent generations of multimodal devices."

"Users will be able to provide input via speech, handwriting, motion, or keystrokes, with output presented via displays, pre-recorded and synthetic speech, audio, and tactile mechanisms such as mobile phone vibrators and Braille strips. Application developers will be able to provide an effective user interface for whichever modes the user selects. To encourage rapid adoption, the same content can be designed for use on both old and new devices. The capability of possible multimodal access depends on the devices used. For example, users of multimodal devices which include not only keypads but also touch panel, microphone, and motion sensor can enjoy all the possible modalities, while users of devices with restricted capability prefer simpler and lighter modalities like keypads and voice."

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