Wacom Inkling — Could be Just What Designers Need

So what exactly is the Wacom Inkling? Many in our space are familiar with the Adapx pen which allows for capturing forms and other simple data inputs from special paper. The Inkling is sort of the right brain answer to the left brain Adapx. So what exactly does the Inkling do and why would I pay $199 for it?

Simply put, Wacom designed the Inkling to be a digitizer that works on any piece of paper. That’s a huge difference from the Adapx pen which requires their special paper with dots on it. This means the Wacom pen can be used like an “ordinary” pen. Draw what you want and there it is. This is great for designers, but it means that the Adapx pen and the Wacom Inkling are after two different markets. There is no OCR or other recognition software, it just captures what you write as lines (heck, these are vectors baby!).

Wacom Inkling Picture

The Wacom Inkling has a very nice travel case that contains everything you need to use the pen.

So what do you get with the Inkling?The case that the Inkling comes in does a great job of holding all the pieces together and charges the pen and receiver when plugged into a USB port using the included cable. The pen itself is a tad thinker than I’m used to which means that id doesn’t always feel quite right in my hand. But for GeoDesign type applications, it is probably going to work out fine (think of writing with a sharpie size pen). It takes regular ink refills which is great in that it isn’t going to cost you, but the thickness of the ink was greater than I’m normally used to. I suppose you could get different refills, but I didn’t test that out.

Clipping the Inkling on to paper

The Inkling Receiver clips on to any piece of paper.

The Inkling Receiver clips on to your paper and uses some sort of infrared connectivity to figure out where the pen is. You can see the infrared beam area at the bottom of the receiver in the picture above. Yes, this means that if you put your hand in front of that beam, the pen becomes lost. It quickly rediscovers it, but you’ll want to keep that in mind while drawing. The other important fact about the receiver is that it only works on paper 8.5×11 inches or smaller. That means you can’t clip it on to some huge ANSI E plot and start working, you have to make smaller plots to work with.

Wacom Inkling on Paper

You clip the receiver to the top of the paper and start writing.

As you can see in the picture above, you clip the?receiver on the paper and just start working with it. The green light blinks as you draw showing that it is getting data from the pen. There are two buttons on the receiver, the left one is a power button, but the right one is much more interesting. It is a layer button. You can start drawing, click that button and then work on a new layer. These layers are compatible with Illustrator and Photoshop (more later).

Once you are done drawing, you unclip the receiver and plug it into a mini USB cable. The one included with the unit was short, so I used a longer cable that I had in a drawer. This shows up as a USB flash device and includes software that Wacom includes to download and convert the drawings.

Wacom Inkling Sketch Manager

The Sketch Manager could be the weakest link to the package.

The Sketch Manager is used to transfer the sketches off the receiver and into formats that you can use. Unlike the well hardware, the software feels like a bad Windows 95 application. It is confusing and menus options seem randomly tossed around where you least expect it. The sketch manager recognizes Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and puts some export buttons at the top to make it easy to get sketches in to those applications. The problem with this is that you need Adobe installed to export to AI. You can’t save as these formats, it does some sort of OLE thing where the vectors just show up in the application.

Layers in Wacom

You can see the layers in this sketch.

But don’t be too sad about true EPS/AI support missing. It does support SVG export (as well as PDF and the regular raster exports such as jpg/tiff) which means you can get those vectors out and into applications that use it. I was able to export out the sketch into SVG and then upload it to my personal WeoGeo Library where I could then work with it how ever I needed it. The SVG was able to be imported to Illustrator, ArcGIS Desktop and other applications that support SVG without issue. This means that you can make edits with your pen on paper and then bring those back into your digital tools for fine tuning.

Wacom Inkling Sketch Manager Export Options

So here are the export options, don’t look for Illustrator, Photoshop or Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

I’m no artist, but I have spent many times in the past 20 years marking up output from GIS systems using a pen on paper. From this perspective, I think the Wacom Inkling shines. Designers and planners love to sketch by hand and then expect others to convert that to digital maps. I can see putting and Inkling in all their hands so that I can just grab the SVG output and bring it into my software. There are limitations of course, you can’t use anything bigger than 8.5×11 inch paper, the pen is a tad large, the ink is not fine enough; but I was able to start working with the pen immediately and produce great results without any problems. The price of the pen is reasonable considering other options (including digitizer tablets) and since it takes ordinary ink refills, future costs should stay low.

I come from a design/planning background and I can’t tell you how much I would have loved to have a pen like this years ago. I’ve handed it to architects and planners and had them produce output that went right into projects with minimal editing. That really puts a smile on your face and produces great work that normally would have had to be digitized on-screen. I can totally see Wacom produce a line of Inkling products like they have with their Bamboo line. But for now, if you ever mark up maps or other documents and wish to get those lines into Adobe Illustrator or Esri ArcGIS, the Inkling is clearly the way to go.

Other reviews (including videos) of the Wacom Inking:

GIS Doesn’t Go Inside Buildings Guys

Clearly Google doesn’t understand anything about Professional GIS. 30 years ago, GIS and CAD came to a conclusion. GIS would work outside the building shell and CAD would handle the inside. This has been respected for a generation of GISPs.

But in typical Google fashion, they ignore the truce and now their GIS system (yes I’m not crazy) supports inside the building queries.

Detailed floor plans automatically appear when you’re viewing the map and zoomed in on a building where indoor map data is available. The familiar blue dot icon indicates your location within several meters, and when you move up or down a level in a building with multiple floors, the interface will automatically update to display which floor you’re on. All this is achieved by using an approach similar to that of My Location for outdoor spaces, but fine tuned for indoors.

So it is a stupid Andoid app and nothing more, for now. But clearly there is an API in there just waiting to be used. Of course New Yorker’s fear being tracked on their cell phones so it remains to be seen if Google will feel any backlash for tracking your cell phone (cue the old “opt-in” defense).

Now I’m not sure how stupid Google thinks users are though. Is “Find my Favorite Coffee Shop” still something that people need help with?

GIS Cloud Removes Beta From their Logo

Two months ago, GIS Cloud released a HTML5 client that was very slick. My thoughts at the time:

The latest company to release a HTML5 client is GISCloud. While other visualization companies offer JavaScript maps as an option, GISCloud has made them default. By using the HTML5 Canvas element, GISCloud is rendering vector data right inside of the browser, with no plugin. Oh and you don’t need to use some sort of weird API to get it to work on iPhones or iPads. It just works, browsing 2 million features on my iPad in Safari without a native app. Crazy!

Well for those who view the Beta tag as something to avoid, GIS Cloud has now gone full production on their code.

GIS Cloud Logo

Today’s GIS Cloud differs quite a lot from when it was first created, and so does the team as well. We have both grown and improved a lot; learned how to provide GIS users with what they need. GIS Cloud got:

  • redesigned
  • much simpler to use and more intuitive
  • more focused on the map and data visualization
  • reborn with the HTML5 map engine
  • moved to Amazon Cloud
  • its very own platform for creating geo applications

There are some great demo’s on GIS Cloud’s website that really showcase how far HTML5 has come in supporting millions of features in a browser. Plus they work on iPad without needing to download a client app. Now that I love!

Esri Says They Have Your APIs Covered

So Silverlight, Flash and Flex are dead. Or maybe not. Honestly we’ll probably see all three around for years. Enterprises love to hold onto outdated or deprecated software (er IE6) so they’ll probably continue using these three until the development tools are dead. Given how many VB6 and VBA apps I still see out there, it will probably be years before they are gone from our browsers.

The big question of course is what will Esri do with those APIs? Well don’t fear, they are totally committed to you writing apps in libraries that have no future.

We’re committed to providing the best technology for GIS developers and giving choices from the most widely used developer platforms in the market. By offering many options, we enable developers to address different customer needs and expectations. Our commitment is not based on a specific technology, but based on supporting the GIS developer regardless of the platform chosen. Each of these areas: JavaScript/HTML 5, Flex, Silverlight, and native application code, gain significant improvements in the upcoming ArcGIS 10.1 release.

See? No worries. Plus you can use their JavaScript (notice they now append HTML5 to the end?) API to stay “current”. Of course you have to use Dojo which gives you just enough bloat to call that a nice Enterprise API. Plus you can still use the ArcGIS for SharePoint to fulfill all your Enterprise API coding needs.

Seriously, if I was Esri… I’d totally get Leaflet working natively with Esri APIs out of the box and use that. Lightweight and fun. Something Esri’s heavy APIs lack.

MapQuest Map API Transactions Are Now Free

So Google did the right thing by actually charging for their API. We all expected other APIs to jump in and show the world how they are either cheaper or better. Well MapQuest jumped in with free with no transaction limits for their “Open Data” Map API.

MapQuest is excited to announce a change to our limits, which includes no preset limit on maps within our free Community Edition license!

Ah, but what about their licensed map versions?

In addition, we are setting higher limits on our other service calls (the highest in the industry), with 5,000 geocodes, 5,000 routes and 5,000 search calls allowed per day.

If you click over to their blog post, you can see a chart that outlines all the features of the different options. What is interesting is the Community Edition/Open Data tier allows free on Private and/or Paid Commercial Web Apps and Mobile Apps. I can’t think of any apps that use MapQuest offhand now, but I suspect these new changes will at least get people to look.

Tight Spot

Merry GIS Day 2011

Who knew that way back when the great communicator was President and signed a proclamation, we’d be having a celebration around the world for GIS.

Geography Week

Later that week, Reagan told Gobry to tear down that wall.

I’m just wondering when we’ll have Geography Month. I can’t get out all my 3D Globes in time to pull them right back down the day after. Will Obama sign the Geography Month proclamation so we can have the time we deserve. November is a lost month between Halloween and Christmas, we might as well celebrate something (I’m all for Thanksgiving, but even the Canadian’s won’t celebrate that with us).

Am I the only one who has GIS Day sneak up on them? I didn’t get a chance to head down to the card store to buy Paul anything.

Geoplatform.gov — Yet another Government Portal to Ignore

So I saw this early this morning:

The federal government and its geospatial partners today unveiled www.geoplatform.gov, a prototype Geospatial Platform website providing an initial view of the future of user-friendly, integrated, federal data collections on common geographic maps.

This prototype version of the Geospatial Platform combines map-based data and tools with the latest internet technologies to deliver geospatial information in a simple, understandable package. Users including the public, federal agencies and their partners can easily find federally-maintained geospatial data, services and applications, as well as access data from our partners across State, Tribal, Regional and local governments.

“The Geospatial Platform will provide a user-friendly “one-stop shop” for place-based data you can trust, and the tools to display that data on a map platform,” said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science.

So it is just like every other government portal, irrelevant to most people and has a quirky interface most users can’t figure out. These geo-government portals just remind me of a movie where they day keeps repeating.