Android: Voice vs. Pen


Yesterday I watched the Samsung Note 3 announcement at IFA. My first thought was: “Wow, they’re really going all-in with the stylus.”

Indeed, this new Air Command feature seems to be a major gateway to productivity on the device — revealing a menu with no less than four major functions:

  1. Action Memos,
  2. Pen Window,
  3. S Finder,
  4. Scrapbook.

And it’s only accessible via the S Pen.

It’s all very cool, but also a complete antithesis of where Google and Motorola are going with the largely voice-driven Motorola X. Then I read this news article about the popularity of the Note and its kin in Asia, and I wonder… Is this a cultural thing?

I know that the Note is a popular choice for lawyers and other professionals. I also know that when I was in Hong Kong last winter everyone seemed to have one — kids, moms, old people… What is perhaps a niche product here in North America is an easy sell over there; Samsung’s Note has the biggest screen, the biggest battery, makes the biggest statement. You get the idea.

If I imagine myself as a Note user in Hong Kong, things fall into place. I spend a lot of time commuting on crowded trains, so voice commands aren’t really an option. Perhaps I enter data in different languages, so using a stylus is more efficient and accurate than switching screens on a virtual keyboard.

Then I switch continents and to the Moto X. I still commute but now I have a car, so voice commands are safer and more convenient. Because Google speaks my language, voice interactions yield better results than they would in another. And since the public at large still talks more than they text, barking instructions into my phone in public places is no more offensive than calling someone.

All this is not to say that the Moto X won’t be popular in Asia and the Note 3 here. I have an actress friend in Toronto who recently got a Note 2 and loves it to death, though I’ve never actually seen her use the S Pen. It’s not to say that you can’t use voice commands on a Note, either. It just seems to me that Motorola and Samsung are going in very different directions in finding new ways for you to interact with their devices.

So I’ll put the question to you: What’s more appealing, pen or voice?