Typewriting in the digital age

It will be interesting to pursue the trajectory of Freewrite (https://store.getfreewrite.com), launched by the Astrohaus Office as “the first distraction proof digital typewriter”. Looking like a portable typewriter equipped with a mechanical keyboard and a screen to visualize the typed text, it can only be used to write. It does not allow email consulting , Internet surfing nor posting on social networks. It connects to the net for the only purpose of having access to the cloud where its texts are filed. It runs on a battery that can last weeks with a single charge. With these features, it definitely will not become a mass consumption  product as it happened with the tablets. What nobody can tell for sure is if it will be disruptive enough to create its own market niche proposing a new (or would it be the good and old?) way to write.

What the Freewrite brings up is that the working environment be productive for writers. Actually, we have access to a myriad of research sources on the Internet, the editing applications are teeming with tools and facilities, the machines have an increasing processing power, etc.  The problem is that this package generates excessive stimulation. The machine reminds us to look at the emails, check the news, see what’s new in social networking, evaluate a promotion. “Writing on a laptop connected to the web is as easy as meditating in a casino”, writes Tim Moynihan, in a Wired news article on Freewrite.

The creators of Freewrite, Adam Leeb, a mechanical designer from MIT, and Patrick Paul, a program developer from Michigan State, are not alone in this endeavor. First, because they managed to convince the investors that their idea deserved to go into production. In 2014, during the project development phase, they succeeded in collecting US$342 thousand in a contributions campaign through the Kickstarter platform. Second, because other products are also getting into this trend. Electronic readers, such as the Kindle, for example, have conquered the public as exclusively reading gadgets. They use EInk technology screens (the same used on Freewriter), which do not emit light making them comfortable enough for those who are willing to read a thousand-page novel, which could be uncomfortable on a tablet or notebook.

Alternative programs for text processing, such as Scrivener or Final Draft, are also following this trend. They succeed in attending to a number of people who are very few to deserve the attention of the market leader, Microsoft Word, thus guaranteeing their place in the sun. This affinity is spoken out by the creators of the Freewrite, who call it the Kindle of the writing and are willing to attract the developers interested in integrating their digital typewriting machine to the Scrivener and the FinalDraft. They have an eye on the same consumer profile.

The nostalgia that drives the Freewrite is a deserved tribute to the history of the typewriter. The typewriting machine was launched in the 19th century. By the end of the 20th century, when personal computers arrived,  it was left aside. It has had time enough to reach its summit in terms of mechanic functionality. Its keyboard, for example, was designed taking into account the frequency of the letters used in writing, and also the necessity to spare the use of the most fragile finger, the little finger. This same keyboard layout, which was brilliant, is dysfunctional in gadgets such as mobiles and tablets. So far, the industry has not found an acceptable solution for text writing machines using only two fingers, as usually happens with the mobiles. The helpless consumers, hypnotized by a myriad of resources on their devices, waste a lot of time re-typing what they write. Or send incomprehensible messages, edited by the so-called spell checkers.

These and other technological gaps are a fertile ground for new products and future disruptive technologies.


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