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”.

HP EliteBook 2740p Review

As you may have noticed if you follow my ramblings, I am a big Tablet PC fan. Recently, my favourite computer died (well, its batteries died). While Motion Computing took get care of me and helped me get some new batteries, this pointed out that I really need to start looking for a replacement.

Enter the HP EliteBook 2740p. This is the newest in HP’s ongoing series of convertible Tablet PCs, and features an updated processor, support for more RAM, and support for both stylus/handwriting input and multi-touch. I recently (about a week ago) received a new 2740p to use as my main work computer, and to evaluate for my employer. So, lets talk about this machine…

Configuration

I got pretty much the base configuration:

  • Intel® Core™ i5-540M Processor (2.53 GHz, 3 MB L3 Cache, 1066 MHz FSB)
  • 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2D)
  • 250 GB 5400 rpm 1.8-inch hard drive
  • 12.1-inch diagonal LED-backlit WXGA UWVA with Digitizer & Touch (1280 x 800)
  • Intel Centrino® Advanced-N 6200
  • Bluetooth
  • TPM+FS
  • 2MP Webcam
  • HP 6-Cell 44 Wh Li-Ion Battery
  • Windows® 7 Professional 64

First Impressions

My first impression of the laptop when I unboxed it was that it felt very solid. Not heavy, but with a sturdy feeling to it. The case is aesthetically pleasing, and looks like it should be able to stand up to wear and tear. Placement of ports, switches and buttons seems logical, and nothing seemed overtly "cheap” About the only thing I was not impressed without of the box was the stylus – it is quite small for doing a lot of writing.

One good thing I note is that there is not a lot of heat coming of the machine. I was a little worried about this, as I have used HP’s TouchSmart consumer convertibles in the past, and they run really hot. The 2740p seems to stay nice and cool, however.

Performance seems pretty good, but I have not really done anything heavy on it yet.

Battery Life

I had seen numbers for the battery life of the 2740p in 5 hour range. I have not so far seen anything close to that – I see 3 hours, maybe 3 and a half at a stretch. Not bad, but not 5 hours. Also, the 3-3.5 hours is in power-saver mode, wireless off, etc. in “normal” working mode, I see something around 2-2.5 hours.

I suspect that I will definitely be buying the secondary battery for the 2740p if I want to use it on the road.

Display

I really like the display. It is nice and bright when I want it to be, and also looks good when I turn the brightness down. I like the fact that it is a matte finish, especially for handwriting and for reading documents it is much easier on the eyes than a glossy screen.

Ink Input

Ink input seems pretty good. I use Ink a lot – mostly in OneNote and in MindJet MindManager. Initially, I had trouble in OneNote as the accuracy of the stylus seemed really bad. Once I set the tablet settings properly (left-handed) and calibrated the digitizer, however, the handwriting in OneNote worked well.

Using the stylus to navigate is not without issues, however. Even after setting the tablet for left-handedness as well as calibrating the digitizer, I find there is significant parallax in the positioning of the cursor relative to the stylus tip. This is especially true near the edges of the display. It is better than on the Acer tablet MS gave out at PDC09, but far worse than it is on, say, my Motion Computing LE1600.

I was also disappointed in the coexistence of ink and touch on the 2740p. I still find that when I am  trying to write, the computer is recognizing touch events and confusing the process. There is a way around this – you can configure the machine to not automatically switch from ink to touch and back, but to rely on a double-touch gesture to switch modes. A little clunky, but at least it works.

Multi-touch

Multi-touch is, in a word, disappointing.  As I stated above, it does not coexist very well with stylus input. Once you are in “touch” mode, basic operations seem to work ok (scrolling, gestures for things like “back” or “forward”, etc.), but there seems to be a significant lag in touch response. I have not really had much success with multi-touch interactions at all – for example using a pinch type gesture to zoom in or out in IE or Word. The latency involved makes it not useful.

Quirks

There are a number of quirks (other than the ink/touch coexistence I mentioned above) that I have yet to resolve on the 2740p:

  • I cannot figure out how to make it use the fingerprint scanner for Windows logon. It is using it for BIOS-level authentication, and I can make it work for logons once I am inside Windows, but not for the actual Windows logon.
  • I cannot make the screen rotate automatically when I rotate the computer in tablet mode. It switches when I go from laptop to tablet mode or back. But when in table mode, when I rotate the machine, the display does not rotate.
  • I have had a lot of difficulties with BlueTooth. I have a BlueTooth mouse that pairs quite nicely with all the other computers I use, but the 2740p does not even see it (BlueTooth is working however, as I have successfully used it to connect to my phone).
  • Power cord: ok, this is a bit picky, but it has also been a problem on every tablet I have every used. The power cords are not designed to work well in tablet mode, they stick out way to far, and they put unnecessary stress on the connector. Seriously, is this the best they can design?

Summary

Overall, it is a nice laptop. Performance is good, battery life is good (and there is the option to add more), and the machine seems very solid and well made. I am still disappointed in both the handwriting and multi-touch capabilities, but maybe I will get used to them (though I should not have to get used to them, they should wow me out of the box!)

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?

The Wonder Of Apple’s Tablet – washingtonpost.com

The Wonder Of Apple’s Tablet – washingtonpost.com

Well, well, well….yet another “hype” article for the rumoured (though probably real in some form) Apple Tablet. I must admit, that I am of two minds on the the Apple Tablet (what ever it is will be called). On the one hand, I am very interested in seeing what Apple does with the idea. Will it be a real tablet, or will it just be a big iPhone? Will it run the iPhone OS or a real operating system?

I am mostly concerned simply because it comes from Apple. I personally find Apple to be one of the most troubling companies on the planet. Their closed systems and closed attitude towards the rest of the computing world bother me. Even worse are Apple fans. I dread to see the Apple Tablet merely on the grounds that 6 months later all of Apple fandom will be declaring loudly “how brilliant Steve Jobs is – he invented the Tablet!”.

Back to the article in the Washington Post. The author rightfully asks the question “Why would anyone want a tablet computer?” I personally love them. I have been using them for years (remember this for next Christmas kids – APPLE DID/WILL NOT INVENT THE TABLET PC). I have written several other posts about why I like them, and where I would like them to go in the future. Right now I have two Tablets – one is a slate model which I love. The other is the convertible Tablet given out to attendees at Microsoft PDC . This one has a great multi-touch interface running Windows 7. Its only weakness is pour handwriting support due to interference between touch capabilities and handwriting. In the house we also have two HP Touchsmart convertible tablets. These both support multi-touch and handwriting extremely well, and are well priced at just under $1000 (in Canada).

(Note here that MS already has a multitouch interface that supports gestures, handwriting, and runs a real OS, so is useful beyond just being another gadget.)

Now for the stupidest statement in the Washington Post article (possibly the stupidest tech statement made this year):

“The truth is that most of us don’t understand the allure of a tablet computer because they’ve all sucked up until now.”

Ok, the author just revealed himself to either be a moron, woefully uninformed, or just completely lacking in objectivity (perhaps stemming from the Crunchpad association). There are a number of very good tablets out there (and have been for a number of years). Any of the tablets from Motion Computing are great, though they are not consumer oriented (I have been using an LE1600 personally for 4+ years). The HP tablets have been consistently good. I have also heard great things about Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Dell tablets. The one complaint I have about all of them (except maybe the HP Touchsmart) is that the prices are way too high, but that is improving.

I will say I really want more out of a Tablet, as I said in a previous post. But that does not mean that all of the existing devices suck. Such a broad generalization, is well, just stupid.

Here is another statement from the article:

We’ll be living in a future with Minority Report, Star Trek, and Avatar interactive technology

it is interesting to note that the user interface in Minority Report was actually inspired by another non-Apple device – the Microsoft Surface.

The last quote I will take from this article is

Part of it is that Apple has a sterling record with consumer-oriented products.

Well, seems to me that Apple has failed a few more times than the author mentions. Seems the Mac Book Air didn’t do so well. Going back much further, anyone remember Steve Job’s Newton? Going back even further, Apple could be the dominant desktop OS right now if not for Job’s immeasurable ego back in the 80s (has that changed at all?).

My big concern here is how much of the consumer community reads and believes unsubstantiated drivel like this, and so dismisses anything non-Apple without even looking at it.   

A big part of the blame for this has to go to Microsoft, as well, and their atrocious marketing department. Tablet PCs have been around since 2002, and yet I still get stopped everywhere I travel by folks asking what my tablet is. How is that for getting the word out on one of your coolest technologies? It does not help that the press does not like to write about anything Microsoft because it is not “cool” to support MS.

So please folks, remember this – multi-touch, gesture-based computing is real and available today, and it is not from Apple. In addition, it runs an OS that lets you use everything you have been used to using, and does not lock you in to buying everything you ever want through Apple. And, you can even replace your own battery, unlike most Apple devices 🙂

PS – More hype for the “Apple saves the tablet” community is here. Also there is an older article Why Have Tablets Flopped? Here Are Five Reasons referenced. Of the five reasons quoted, only one is valid – price. Note also that the only pictures they use are of the Newton – the only real failure of the bunch. It is really sad that all of the media writing about tablets seems to have drunk the Apple Koolaid.

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?