Interesting tablet PC article

in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
At <a href=",3605,798743,00.html"; target="_blank">Guardian Unlimited</a>, courtesy of <a href=""; target="_blank">Gizmodo</a>.

[quote]<strong>Keep taking the tablets

A notepad and pen cost £1 - so why would anyone want to pay £1,500 for a computer that can read your writing? Jack Schofield investigates

Thursday September 26, 2002

The Guardian

The computer industry would like to sell you the idea of using an amazing new input system: a "stylus" or "pen", and "ink", which taken together allow something called "handwriting". Of course, these are computerised versions. People who today use ballpoint pens to scribble in 50p notebooks will, from November 7, be able to buy radio-frequency pens that "write" on a green-ruled simulation of a 50p notebook displayed on a £1,500 Tablet PC.

It's an idea that is dear to the heart of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has hyped the Tablet PC in his last two Comdex computer show speeches in Las Vegas in 2000 and 2001. "I'm already using a Tablet PC as my everyday computer," he said last year. "It's a PC that is virtually without limits, and within five years, I predict that it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

This month, Microsoft finally delivered the software - Windows XP Tablet PC Edition - as part of the XP Service Pack 1. PC manufacturers are now preparing Tablets for the grand launch just six weeks away. They include Acer, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, China's Legend, Toshiba, Viewsonic, and Walkabout Computers. In the UK, both Research Machines and Time Group have signed up as hardware partners. Many more could follow. The PC industry has stopped growing and companies are looking for something, anything, that will kickstart sales.

At best, the Tablet PC could be the breakthrough computer for people who don't like computers, and don't want to learn to type. They will be able to handwrite their email and send it in graphical form, just as though it had been written on paper, or post doodles on the web. It could open up a new market, though Microsoft isn't betting on it.

Microsoft's more modest aim is to enable business users to get more value from their PCs by making them more versatile, according to Neil Laver, product manager for Tablet PCs at Microsoft UK. Today, people spend a lot of time in meetings while their PCs do nothing. With a Tablet PC, they will be able to pick it up from its desktop docking station ("grab and go" in Microsoft-speak), take it to their meeting and make handwritten notes. Many Tablet PCs, such as the Acer TravelMate 100 I've been using, are convertibles: they are also conventional notebook PCs. So, rather than being an expensive extra, a Tablet PC can be the user's only PC.

Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research in Boston, thinks business people who are already familiar with computers will use Tablet PCs in meetings. There's "a social shift" that makes writing on a screen acceptable in situations where typing might not be, he says, and the Tablet PC's web access, via a Wi-Fi wireless network, is an added benefit.

But even if the worst happens, and the whole thing flops, Tablet PCs are still going to sell in specialised niches where similar tablets are already in use. These are the situations where it is useful for people to be able to tick on-screen boxes and add handwritten annotations to "printed" forms. Potential users include policemen and firemen, surveyors and estate agents, doctors and nurses, teachers and students and market researchers and travelling salesmen. Toughened versions will find jobs on the factory floor.

These sectors are where most industry analysts think the Tablet PC will succeed, and Gillett says the process will involve more than simply automating what exists today. By running powerful PC software, the Tablet PC can "transform mundane jobs like restocking store shelves," he says. "Tomorrow's Snap-on tool truck drivers will move from just selling socket wrenches to presenting custom ROI [return on investment] analyses of new tools and provisioning plans for new auto-repair shops. It upskills the job."

One of paper's great advantages is that it allows you to cross things out, highlight things and scribble notes in the margins of documents. Those things were sacrificed in the move to computer-based records, in exchange for the ability to search, sort and store vast numbers of digital records, and move them around the world at fantastic speeds. Adding digital pen and ink restores some of the advantages of paper while retaining most of the advantages of computerisation.

Suppose you are a business executive or student. At the moment, you probably print out your work, and your boss or teacher annotates it by hand. A Tablet PC would allow you to keep to the same system, but submit your work electronically and have it marked on screen. Alternatively, in a meeting, a number of people with wirelessly networked Tablet PCs could all annotate the same documents. The Tablet PCs potential in "collaborative situations" interests Peter Kastner, chief research officer at Aberdeen Group. "I think it's more than the niche product people think," he says.

What should be obvious by now is that the Tablet PC's "big idea" is that it captures handwriting as handwriting: it's not about handwriting recognition, or turning handwriting into text, which has been done before. Using the sort of technology familiar to Wacom tablet users, the Tablet PC screen captures handwriting fast enough for you to be able to write almost normally. In fact, I found I used Acer's tablet PC in two distinct modes. Most of the time I wrote in my almost illegible scrawl in Windows Journal, the notebook application, and saved the results as handwriting. If I wanted to convert my handwriting into text, I would write things much more carefully then invoke the recogniser and correct any errors.

In my slow mode, the Tablet PC's handwriting recognition was just about perfect, though not always. ("The quiche from toe jumps over the lazy dog," said the Acer.) But even in high-speed scrawl mode, the machine sometimes read my handwriting better than I could, sometimes it produced gibberish, too.

But the biggest problem with the pre-launch Tablet PC was, predictably, the lack of software. Handwriting has been integrated into the operating system, but apart from Windows Journal, not into applications. (Windows programs run in the normal way, but one wants fancy extras.) When I complained to Microsoft's Neil Laver that handwriting was less integrated in the Tablet PC than in Pocket PCs such as Compaq's iPaq, the gist of his reply was that PocketPC was a product, whereas the Tablet PC was a platform. "We're taking the usual Microsoft model in that most of the software will come from third parties," he said.

Microsoft has provided Tablet PC APIs (applications programming interfaces) and a software development kit (SDK) so that software suppliers can "pen-enable" existing software, and write new programs. This will take time. Worse, the number of announced software partners is much smaller than the list of hardware partners, though it does include Adobe, Autodesk, Corel, Groove Networks and SAP. Not even Microsoft has done very much. Laver says Microsoft will offer a free add-on pack for Microsoft Office but "this is retrofitting an existing product. It's pretty clunky. The next version of Office will have greater integration."

In other words, as with Windows, the Tablet PC's success will depend on programmers coming up with "killer applications" that people want to use. Fortunately, it is not hard to imagine programs that will sell Tablet PCs, especially if they combine speech and handwriting. For example, Microsoft is working on a "journalist tool" that synchronises handwritten notes with digital audio recorded on the Tablet PC at the time. If it works well enough, I would probably be willing to pay a small premium for a Tablet PC over the traditional notebook PC that I would have bought instead.

None of this suggests the Tablet PC is about to take over the world, but it doesn't look bad as version 1 of a new Microsoft platform. If it survives to version 3, in about 2007, it could be amazing.

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1972 Dynabook

Alan Kay joins Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in California. He imagines a "dynamic book", or Dynabook, that users can take everywhere as their personal digital assistant. He also insists that computers should adapt to the way people work, not the other way around. See <a href=""; target="_blank"></a>

1987 Go

Jerry Kaplan is convinced that handheld computers with handwriting recognition will dominate the 1990s the way minicomputers dominated the 70s and personal computers the 1980s. He founds Go to develop one.

1989 GRiD

GRiD Systems introduces the GridPad, a large tablet computer with a touch-sensitive screen, stylus and handwriting recognition software instead of a keyboard. It runs Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system.

1991 Go v Pen Windows

Go releases PenPoint, its revolutionary operating system for pen-based computers, and has a face-off with Microsoft, which unveils the evolutionary Windows for Pen Computing (or Pen Extensions 1.0 for Windows 3.1), running on an NEC3125 tablet PC. Atari shows a prototype tablet ST; Momenta unveils the Pentop tablet PC. At Comdex in November, IBM previews its first ThinkPad, a 6.3lb tablet computer running PenPoint, which goes on general sale in May 1993.

1992 Palm founded

Jeff Hawkins, who had worked on the GRiD GridPad, co-founds Palm to write software for pen-based electronic organisers, the first being the Tandy/Casio Zoomer. He perfects a simplified text-entry system called Graffiti.

1993 PDA fever

Apple launches the Newton Messagepad with a fanfare of publicity. However, its handwriting recognition system works so poorly that the device is pilloried in the Doonesbury comic strip. The Newton's failure kills the market for pen-based PDAs. Amstrad launches the PenPad PDA600 but its failure goes unnoticed.

1995 Windows PenX

Microsoft ships Pen Extensions 2.0 for Windows 95, which becomes the standard for tablet computers used in vertical markets such as insurance, health care, transport and sales force automation. Manufacturers include Fujitsu and Fujitsu-ICL, MicroSlate, Panasonic, Symbol Technologies, WalkAbout and Xplore.

1996 Palm v Windows CE

Palm, now owned by US Robotics, launches the Palm Pilot, the first successful pen-based PDA. However, after USR is taken over by 3Com in 1997, Palm's founders and key staff leave to start Handspring. Microsoft launches Windows CE (Consumer Electronics), which runs on similar but inferior "palm-sized" pen-operated handhelds from Casio, Hewlett-Packard and Philips. CE is also used on some successful "pen tablets" such as Fujitsu's PenCentra range and the Advantech MobiPanel MP100.

1996 Aha!

Microsoft buys Aha Software, a small firm that has developed InkWriter software for pen computing. This promptly disappears, but it could be assumed to live on in Microsoft's Ink and the Windows Journal in the Tablet PC.

2002 Tablet PC

November 7: Microsoft launches Windows XP Tablet PC Edition running on hardware from many different suppliers, some of whom already sell successful tablets in the industrial market. Some will see it as a re-run of the disastrous 1992 effort to sell Windows for Pen Computing. But it took Microsoft a decade to make a success of Windows, first announced in 1983. Its third major attempt at pen-based computing could also be the one that takes off.

Comments to [email protected]</strong><hr></blockquote>


  • Reply 1 of 10
    In before thread lock!

    <img src="graemlins/smokin.gif" border="0" alt="[Chilling]" />
  • Reply 2 of 10
    I love that Bill Gates uses one of these already as his daily PC. What is he a focus group? I can see the Tablet PC as useful in the business world, for "taking notes in meetings", but in my home I feel this thing would just be a novelty.

    Of course, who would deny that an Apple Tablet would blow the doors off any Windows version.
  • Reply 3 of 10
    vinney57vinney57 Posts: 1,162member
    I think Apple are flying a holding pattern over this idea and waiting to see what happens. They'll be quite happy watching Microsnot and its 'trusted partners' spending billions promoting this niche. I also think the technology needs to mature for another couple of years until these pads can be really thin and really strong; plus faster wireless for remote desking.
  • Reply 4 of 10
    Well since this is Future hardware:

    How about a thin (OLED?) light (polymer battery?) 9x12 Tablet that charges in a stand/cradle that also makes all the connections to your Mac (ADC connection?) and acts as a second display, dual display if your mac supports it (and make all Future Macs support it).

    This tablet senses it's orientation and display adjusts accordingly. Airport and Bluetooth built in, so it maintains the connection to your Mac when you take it out of the stand. Touch and pen sensitive, using InkWell to capture your input. Speech recognition capable for commands and input (you talk it types).

    When out of range of Airport it reverts to built in embedded processor (Motorala 8500?) and OSX lite to maintain functionality as super handheld.
  • Reply 5 of 10
    I wonder what the motivation for Microsoft is to offer this tablet PC. They are going to make the same money whether you buy a regular computer with Xp or whether you buy a tablet PC with XP. I guess it must be that they feel computer sales are going to fall steeply and that tablet PCs will cause people to replace their computers. This is extremely doubtful.
  • Reply 6 of 10
    [quote]Originally posted by spindler:

    <strong>I wonder what the motivation for Microsoft is ... </strong><hr></blockquote>

    The same as Freesyle and Paladrome ~ giving their "partners" the shaft by getting them to pony up for unfinished code to be used in inadequate hardware that will never sell.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    [quote]Originally posted by spindler:

    <strong>I wonder what the motivation for Microsoft is to offer this tablet PC. They are going to make the same money whether you buy a regular computer with Xp or whether you buy a tablet PC with XP. I guess it must be that they feel computer sales are going to fall steeply and that tablet PCs will cause people to replace their computers. This is extremely doubtful.</strong><hr></blockquote>

    So when Apple comes out with a new product it is innovation and when MS tries out a new technology, it is ???. :confused:

    I have used the tablet and have said this in another thread: in its current configuration, the tablet is positioned for the enterprise market and not for the general consumer.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    [quote]Originally posted by Aphelion:


    The same as Freesyle and Paladrome ~ giving their "partners" the shaft by getting them to pony up for unfinished code to be used in inadequate hardware that will never sell.</strong><hr></blockquote>

    Not a great argument either. One can easily accuse Apple of the same thing but even more accurately e.g. OS X = unfinished code and inadequate hardware = Mac.
  • Reply 9 of 10
    I love it when people snootily dismiss the concept of a tablet PC as a hyper-expensive, yet less functional, version of a pad of paper.

    I worked in a big company for two years- and at every meeting, I took notes into my Palm. My co-workers brought pads and pens.

    They basically used these pads to doodle, or to nod and write down "important keywords" from the meeting-

    We need to encourage repeat traffic.

    Co-workers: (Nodding, writing "repeat traffic" on their pads).

    After each meeting, I'd go back to my office and synch my Palm, and e-mail my notes to everyone in the meeting as a set of informal "minutes." No retyping necessary.

    In subsequent meetings, when someone mis-remembered something (they never had the same pad in different meetings), I was able to do a "find" and call up the notes from the prior meetings. That made me look like a smug @ssface, but at least I was an informed smug @ssface.

    One of the funniest things to me about corporate America is that everyone in the company had access to all the information in the world via the computers on their desks. The moment we had a meeting, however, all that information got left behind, and half the meeting was people asking questions, and other people saying, "I'll look into that when I get back to my computer."

    Without access to our machines, we slowed down the business proccess. That's why I'm convinced that in ten years, it will be normal for people to carry some sort of data terminal around the office, so they can access their company info (which is progressively moving to the company intranet or some other network resource).

    It will be wireless, and it will have some sort of method to enter information and retrieve it. A laptop is anti-social in a meeting- it puts up a barrier between you and your co-workers.

    Will it be a souped up cell-phone? An airport-enabled PDA?

    All my ex-co-workers would probably be happiest with something similar to their good old pens and pads...

    To bring this back on topic, I'm convinced Apple will eventually release something like this- but not until the space has been prepped by some other company. Newton spoiled Apple on breaking new ground. We now have an Apple that releases 2nd generation machines into an already mnature market (iPod, and every other iDevice from now on).

    So, MWSF 2006 is my prediction :-)
  • Reply 10 of 10
    The iPod is an anomoly for Apple's recent past. The Xserve is a product that *should* have been done years ago. The newest G4s still have the same space-limited case that now has the drives stacked on end to get enough space for the massive heat sink.

    Apple waited a LONG time to release an MP3 player and made one that while being very capacious, was VERY expsensive and still is compared to other solutions. Yes the iPod now has more value with its quasi-organizer calendar and contacts, but its still mostly an expensive MP3 player with a FireWire HD in a very crowded market. I don't have one and don't need one to get work done. I don't need an iPhone either.

    The last thing I want from Apple is a cell phone. An ultra-portable computer or thin client tablet Mac would be better. Instead of having to be tied to a desktop Mac or lug a bulky laptop around an office you could keep a tablet Mac that wirelessly connects to your desktop and accesse its files, prints or fetches Internet traffic anywhere you want. THAT would be useful.

    A tablet Mac should compliment a desktop, not replace it. I think this is where the biggest handup is with most people; what is the purpose of a thin client portable with limited features. If the Newton had evolved further it would have become a tablet Mac.

    For all the pen/paper die hards: You can't change a piece of information company wide by crossing out and rewriting it on a piece of paper that only you have. Nor can that piece of paper be updated automatically when the original data is altered on a computer on the other side of the building.
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