Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet

Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet.

This has always been my view of Microsoft’s tablet strength, and the competitors’ glaring weakness. For me, without a viable input method (and the onscreen keyboard is not a viable input method for anything more than 140 characters), existing tablets are nothing more than one-way consumption devices.

I, too, used slate tablets + OneNote for all of my note-taking. Not just in meetings, but when I was brainstorming, researching new ideas, collecting and annotating content from the Web, etc.

I have OneNote notebooks with every note I took from 2003 through 2008, all searchable, and all with me all the time. The only reason I stopped was because my slate tablet died a slow death, and all of the newer Tablet PCs I have tried are complete crap for handwriting (mostly because of the introduction of and focus on touch).

However, 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). For my kids, handwriting is awkward and slow. They would much rather type things, even on smartphone keyboards, or onscreen keyboards. Writing is an absolute last resort. Look also at the fact that a number of education departments are now removing cursive writing from the curriculum. For better or worse, in the next generation, handwriting may become almost unknown.

So for Microsoft, Windows 8, tablets, and handwriting, it will ultimately come down to (as it almost always does) answering the question who is your target market?. If Microsoft is going after the same people who buy iPads, and Android slates, then handwriting may not be much of an advantage at all.

In fact, it may just make those people think “more old fashioned stuff from Microsoft”.

RIP to my favourite computer

Well, it has finally happened. My favourite computer (the best I have ever used, actually) has finally died. As I have noted before, for many years now my Motion Computing LE1600 slate has been the centre of my computing toolkit. About the only thing I do not use it for is programming – pretty much everything else I do (or did) on my tablet.

Sadly, after 5 years, the batteries have all died. While I will try to get new batteries, I am not hopeful that I can get them at a reasonable cost.

What is really disappointing to me is that there is nothing out there which which to replace it. Motion Computing has discontinued the LE1600/LE1700, and the only similar product is the J3400 which is overkill for my needs. The offerings from Fujitsu and others in the slate space are all several years old, and far over priced for what they now offer.

And then there are the many new and pending products in the slate space – the iPad, as well as offerings from HP and many others. As slick as some of these new devices look, and as attractive as the pricing is on them, it appears that my worst fears have been realized and most of the new generation of slates are dumbed-down consumer devices, with no real support for ink input which is, as I have said before, crucial to my use of the platform.

Ah well – time to search for batteries. 

What Should a Slate Tablet Look Like Today? Revisited

A while back I wrote a post What Should a Slate Tablet Look Like Today?. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the post in light of Apple’s iPad launch this week.

Looking back at that post, here is what I listed as my primary requirements:

  1. A form factor similar to the Kindle DX (maybe a larger screen, but similar thickness);
  2. A real back-lit screen – maybe with the ability to turn off back light to conserve power. Without backlight, should look as good as Kindle;
  3. Ink input – and maybe touch;
  4. Running a full OS – a light version of Windows or a Linux distribution (I do not want just an eBook reader);
  5. Software support: Reader for PDF and Office, etc., eMail, Browser, OneNote-like app, Media support;
  6. No extras: no modem, no optical drive, minimal ports, no video out, no web cam;
  7. No HDD – maybe an SDD, maybe the OS in ROM or something;
  8. No keyboard except maybe by USB or Bluetooth;
  9. Maybe assume that most applications I need will be in Browser (cannot believe I said that lol);
  10. Price point around $500

Lets compare those requirements to the new iPad:

  1. The iPad does pretty well on this – though it appears to be quite a bit thicker than a Kindle;
  2. Meets the primary requirement here, but does not satisfy my wish to be able to turn it off and have it look like a Kindle screen (not sure this is even possible);
  3. Ok – fails on this one completely
  4. I am not sure if I consider what is on there a “full OS” – seems pretty limited to me, and is incompatible with everything but iPhone apps;
  5. Fails on this, and even fails on many browser-based apps, given the lack of Flash support (and I am pretty sure it does not support Silverlight;
  6. Seems to be on same page as me here, though I would probably have included a USB port (Apple’s love of proprietary connections strikes again);
  7. Right on here – though the $500 model’s drive is too small to be useful;
  8. Got it right again – though I think Bluetooth would have been a good idea;
  9. As I said above, support for web apps may be limited since Apple does not seem willing to support plugins like Flash or Silverlight;
  10. Bottom end model meets this, but as I said, its 16gd SSD is too small to be useful.

So the iPad meets a lot of my requirements, but without ink support, and with its lack of support for applications I need, it is definitely not what I need as an all around slate tablet. It is a cute toy, but it is just that – a toy.

Some ‘”what if” thoughts on the Apple Tablet

Just what the world needs, right? Yet another post on the rumoured, almost legendary, Apple Tablet.

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.

I could also write about the new moves by Microsoft and its partners on the tablet front. Unfortunately, there is not much to talk about there. I am not going to go down the path others have and declare the new tablets shown in the keynote to be crap – they just did not show enough to really judge one way or the other, or to be very excited.

So, lets talk about Apple.

My first question about the Apple tablet is this: What is the target market? Is it primarily a consumer product? Or is it targeted at business users? Apple has a good track record, especially in the last decade, of building products for the consumer market. There is no denying that. On the other hand, Apple’s success in the business world (outside of very specific areas like graphic design, etc.) has been limited, probably because it has not been a focus for them. In either case, the question also arises as to what is the target user group in the market? In the consumer market, is the target young people or all age groups? it the target techies or “normals”?

This is an important question, as this will define the features that are important in the product. I must admit that most of my views are driven by business use scenarios. I use my tablet for work first, and for personal use second. I am also in an older age group (in Apple’s market) – I am 47. My preferred mode of interaction is with a stylus – emulating “pen and paper”. I like to scribble notes, I like to make drawings – all part of brainstorming. As i said in a previous post, this is not necessarily how younger people prefer to interact. For the most part, my kids (all in college/university) are not all that comfortable with handwriting, much preferring a keyboard of some kind.

So what are the implications of this question for the Apple tablet? Well, if you are going to produce a device to work in the business work, the fact is (for good or bad) it pretty much has to coexist and play well with the infrastructure in place. Right now, that means it has to handle MS Office documents in a meaningful way. It has to work well with Exchange Server. It has to deal gracefully with authentication in an MS world. Like Microsoft or not, that is the world as it is now, and if you want to be a business device, you have to play nicely in that world.

If it is targeted as a consumer device, this obviously becomes much less important. The consumer market is dominated by browsing, media handling, and social interaction.

A consumer oriented tablet may also be able to succeed without an ink interface. I do not think a business device can. This has hardware implications, as well. If it is not handled properly, ink and touch do not work well together (especially for us lefties). You try to write, and your hand is touching the screen, which is interpreted as a touch and nothing works well. HP has gotten around this by have two digitizers – one for touch and one for the stylus. When the stylus gets close to the screen, the touch digitizer deactivates. THis is not the only way to handle it, but it must be handled if you are going to have both touch and ink. 

The other fundamental question about the Apple tablet (for me) is the OS. What Apple’s plans here? I see four possibilities here:

  1. A variation of the iPhone OS
  2. OSX as is (not likely)
  3. OSX tailored for the tablet
  4. A completely new OS (also not likely)

While I have very successfully and happily used windows (XP, Vista, and 7) on tablets, I have no doubt that a new approach could make things much better – face it, computer interaction has not evolved in a fundamental way since the mid 90s (maybe the mid 80s).

I am hoping that the answer is 3. I really do not want to see the Apple Tablet end up as an iPhone on steroids. I have said before that the tablet could benefit from a completely new interaction paradigm, and it will be interesting to see what Apple can do in that area. Unlike many others, I do not see the iPhone as the ultimate achievement in UI design. It is good as far as it goes, but it certainly does not scale to larger application design.

As much as I dislike Apple, I am definitely eager to see what they can do in this area.

So what is the key to success for the Apple Tablet? Obviously, anything Apple releases will have a certain amount of success within the apple fan base. But is that enough to sustain a tablet product line?

Looking back on the iPhone, when it was launched it enjoyed tremendous success because it was new, cool, and different. That would not have been enough for sustained success, however, without the massive number of applications that have been created for it, with a clean, simple distribution model and low costs. I would argue that the long term success of the iPhone is more due to the App Store than to the device itself.

Similarly, look at the Windows vs Mac battle. If ever there was an opportunity for the Mac to steal market share from Windows than during the Vista fiasco. And while Apple did gain market during this time, it really should have gained more. Why didn’t it? The biggest barrier to most Windows users migrating to Mac (especially corporate users and IT departments) is the lack of application support on the Mac. No matter how much I might like OSX and the Mac hardware, it is no good to me if the applications I need personally or or professionally are not supported.

So the key to long term success of the Apple tablet is application support. It needs to support enough of the applications and environments people use everyday, and it needs an active, dynamic developer community driving excitement like the iPhone has. This has been a fundamental point of failure for the Windows-based tablets – almost no support at all from application developers (even the ones inside Microsoft itself!).

Lets hope Apple does it right – because without some injection of new thinking, I believe the tablet device will die off.

Excellent discussion on Apple (and other) Tablets…

Check out Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet – though the post is self is really kind of biased (but hey, it is on a blog called theAppleBlog after all), there is some really good discussion going on in some of the coments (after the first few Apple fanboy entries). And the discussion is really what all of this Web 2.0 stuff really is all about, right?

What Should a Slate Tablet Look Like Today?

I was sitting in a meeting today, and I got thinking about my computer. I have 4 right now. The one I had with me was my Acer convertible tablet from PDC. I also have a Dell XPS laptop, a Motion Computing LE1600, and from work I have a pretty standard HP laptop.

I use all of these for different things.

Right now I am using the Acer a lot, just because it is new and I am experimenting with multi-touch.

Mostly I use my XPS for gaming (which I don’t do much anymore) and for programming. It has 4 gb of RAM, so I have enough room to run a VM for development environments.

My favourite is still the LE1600, however. For day-to-day none programming work I love the slate form factor. Many people crap on the tablet because of handwriting recognition. Personally, I have always found handwriting recognition Windows XP to be more than satisfactory. In Windows Vista it is even better, and even better in Windows 7. That said, I really do not do a lot of handwriting recognition. Mostly, I use OneNote to take notes and leave them as handwriting. I also use applications to mark-up Word and PDF documents (in ink).

My LE1600 is 4+ years old now, though, and it is starting to show its age. It only has 1 gb of RAM, and a 60 gb HDD. I could upgrade the HDD, but it does not seem worth it.

I would like to replace my slate, but there is nothing out there in a reasonable price range that really strikes my fancy. It does not seem that the slate tablet has progressed much at all in the last few years – and there does not seem to be much interest in slates in the marketplace.

There is a lot of interest right now in eBook readers, and while I think they are cool, I cannot see carry yet another device for nothing but reading.

So I got thinking today “what would the perfect slate tablet look like for me.”

Here is a list of what I came up with:

  • A form factor similar to the Kindle DX (maybe a larger screen, but similar thickness);
  • A real back-lit screen – maybe with the ability to turn off back light to conserve power. Without backlight, should look as good as Kindle;
  • Ink input – and maybe touch;
  • Running a full OS – a light version of Windows or a Linux distribution (I do not want just an eBook reader);
  • Software support: Reader for PDF and Office, etc., eMail, Browser, OneNote-like app, Media support;
  • No extras: no modem, no optical drive, minimal ports, no video out, no web cam;
  • No HDD – maybe an SDD, maybe the OS in ROM or something;
  • No keyboard except maybe by USB or Bluetooth;
  • Maybe assume that most applications I need will be in Browser (cannot believe I said that lol);
  • Price point around $500

So that is my quick and dirty wish list – can anyone add anything more?