Young people and the Tablet PC

As I said in a previous post, I have been looking at the HP TouchSmart TX2 series convertible tablets for my daughter, who starts university next month. Well, this weekend I pulled the trigger and bought one, so that we can evaluate it (we have 14 days to return it) and so I can help her learn to use it. I plan on doing a review of some sort of it over then next little while, but in this post, I want to talk about an observation I made this weekend as my daughter (and one of my sons, as well) learns to use the Tablet – and the differences in how I work versus how they work.

I grew up writing things. I took notes on paper. I wrote reports and essays on paper. If I wanted to write to someone, I wrote a letter. Very rarely, I would write a document on a typewriter, but I was such a poor typist that it was always very painful. Even now (or before I had a tablet) I did most of my brainstorming, architecting, and thinking on paper, or on a whiteboard. So, I always wanted a computer that would let me work the way I like to work. Freeform. Scribbling. Making notes. Drawing diagrams. And the Tablet PC does just that – but better, because it is permanent, searchable, share-able, etc.

On to my kids. My kids have done very little handwriting – and have does less the older they get. They actually do not write well in cursive at all (there never seemed to be much focus on it in the schools they attended in Alberta or here in New Brunswick). They have done everything on computers and other electronic devices. Most of their communication has been via IM, and more recently by text messaging. Most of their school work has been done on computers. Yes, they take notes on paper, but even that they do not do well. Luckily, they often get electronic access to course notes.

This leads to an interesting question. I have always thought about the barriers to adoption of Tablet PC technologies in terms of my generation – people who grew up using pen and paper for a significant part of their lives. I still believe that these people present a significant barrier – because they are old enough to be resistive to new ways of doing things, and many of them are so thoroughly brainwashed with the idea that keyboard and mouse are the ultimate computer interface that it is hard to convince them that there could be a better way – much the way it was (and still is) hard to convince command-line folks that there is any other way.

At the other end of the spectrum is the younger generation – anyone under 25 or 30. They are largely receptive to new technologies, and to new ways of interacting. Unfortunately, many of them have spent little of their lives using pen and paper, and so a pen-based Tablet PC does not feel natural to them.

So the Tablet PC faces a conundrum. On the one hand, the group of people who are comfortable with pen and paper are too resistive to change to adopt an “electronic pen and paper” solution. On the other hand, the group which is receptive to new technologies has no interest in pen and paper at all – real or electronic.

Makes me wonder if the naysayers are right – maybe there really is no market for a pen-based, handwriting-centric platform.   


I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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2 comments on “Young people and the Tablet PC
  1. […] this is just me, and the way I work. As I discussed in a previous post, this is not the case for millennials (or however you want to label the up-and-coming generation). […]

  2. […] What I thought I would do here is, putting my personal feelings about Apple and its products aside, talk about what the Apple Tablet would have to be in order for it to be considered (for me) a successful tablet. I have already written about my view on what a modern tablet should look like. I have also written a couple of times on why tablets have failed to sell, and on the adoption of tablets by young people. […]

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