Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who needs a tablet?

The first tablet PC I ever saw in actual use was about 6 or 7 years ago. It was rather ugly and cumbersome looking (much like the one depicted above). The guy that was using the tablet PC swore that within 5 years, everybode would be using touch screens and nobody would be using keyboards anymore. Well, he got that partly right.

The tablet guy proudly demonstrated to me that he could manipulate the mouse cursor by touching it with a stylus. He could now scroll pages by dragging the scroll bars using the stylus. He could now check and uncheck check boxes by tapping the little stylus inside it. But although you could beautifully hand write in MS Paint, it could only very poorly recognize your scribbles and translate it to text. Suffices to say that I wasn't impressed. At all.

The above tablet was just a desktop PC with yet another different pointing device. Yes, in my opinion, the stylus on these early tablet PCs is just another mouse alternative, because it still only moves a pointer (or mostly an hour glass for that matter...) around on your screen and it didn't even have a scroll wheel. Of course the whole idea of the stylus is that you can achieve much finer movement of that pointer allowing for more precise drawing and, indeed, hand writing directly on the page that you have open on your screen.

Being able to hand write directly on the screen (in stead of indirectly through a mouse tablet) is in my opinion the killer application for tablets. And by hand writing I mean the exact user experience you get when using your most comfortable pen while writing on paper. Actually, the paper provides the most important part of that experience to me. The paper is instantly on. When I need to take a note, I want to do it right at the instance I need to. You could argue that your pen could run out of ink whereas the tablet does not require ink so it cannot run out of it, but a tablet does run out of power and rather more quickly than a pen runs out of ink.

The big advantage of a digital hand writing and drawing application is that you can store your notes and drawings digitally and very easily share them with other people. A key use case for me is being able to bring input documents to a meeting digitally (i.e., not printed on paper) and make hand written notes directly on the pages of these documents that were being discussed in that meeting.

The device that should provide that functionality to me should be flat, light, fast and consume so little power that I could reliably use it on a daily basis for a week or so without recharging. It should at least behave like my paper note book. On top of that I would like to also be able to search through my notes, either by voice control or by hand written key words, but most definitely not through a keyboard, not even a virtual one.

So, all I ask for is this: a realistic, reliable and durable hand writing and drawing function, and on top of that a realistic function that would help me to more quickly find back notes and drawings I made earlier. I have yet to see the device that can do such a modest feat. It is obviously very hard to build such a thing. So, who needs a tablet (or slate PC, or xPad, or eReader or whatever it is called)  if it is incapable of providing such obviously expected and basic functions?

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