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Old 09-14-2005, 06:09 PM   #1
Brian
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Pen computing has a future despite a rough start

In a Computerworld article titled Don't Give Up on Pen Computing, JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg discusses why "pen computing isn't dead, but it is stagnant."

Several factors were cited as reasons why pen computing platforms have been slow to take off, including the stigma created by the original Apple Newton's poor handwriting recognition, as well as inadequate hardware that often makes too many compromises. Mr. Gartenberg also makes a very important point when it comes to pen input. Pen navigation and handwriting input each have their places:

For small devices where browsing is more important than content creation, the pen is an ideal navigation tool. But when it comes to composing information like e-mail, thumb keyboards are proving superior, even in small devices.

The PC is a different story. Despite Microsoft's best efforts, tablet PCs haven't really caught on. Still, with devices like the x41 coming to market, it's time for IT to take another look at the functionality of tablet PCs and see where it makes sense to deploy them. There are a lot of places where the pen is mightier than the keyboard.


What do you prefer, keyboards, thumboards, or digital ink? Will tablet PCs continue to be a niche product, or do convertible models have mass market appeal? Will they become an ideal platform for ebooks and digital editions of magazines using programs and services like Zinio, or will small handheld devices like PDAs and the Nokia 770 be the future of pen computing and the preferred platform for portable content?
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Old 09-14-2005, 07:16 PM   #2
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I think tablet PCs of all sizes are inevitable, including the pen computing. People will always have preferences for ink, keyboard, thumboard which will promote a diversity of devices. Small handhelds will be appropriate for those that need it with them all the time. Bigger handhelds will be for a second device or for those that need the form factor or more power and capabilities. Eventually screen size should not determine device size.

I prefer thumboard, but as to whether it's worth a smaller screen I don't know. A virtual thumboard sounds pretty good if it's well integrated. I like not having to take out my stylus all the time when using my Treo 650.

Right now, however, there's no compelling reason for people to try a more complicated technology. What I predict will happen is there will be a shaking out of tablet apps AND ways of using them. As we get to apps and the use of apps that is easily understood and adopted by the average PC user, and as the devices get better and cheaper, people will start to have a reason to adopt the technology and it won't be as hard. I'm a hard core geek, and I do wish I had a Tablet PC, but I don't have any compelling reason to get one. (And believe me, I only need a little justification to supplement my insane desire to have one just to have one!)

What do I really get by going to a Tablet PC right now other than headaches and things that don't work so good for me, and an expensive purchase, and near term obsolescence and a lack of mainstream users and support networks, and maybe a screen that gets all dirty from the palm of my hand on it, the increased risk of breaking it with a drop or fall, etc etc.

For the extra trouble and price, and increased expectation of obsolescence as the technology hasn't stabilized yet for Tablet PCs, I think it's just not worth my while. But soon, I hope.

One of the killer apps in my mind is document management. But it's not nearly as close as we'd like to think because it's hard to compete with paper and the technology isn't there to make the interface nice yet.

But OneNote, EverNote etc seem to be getting close to something helpful if I understand correctly what they are about. My impression, without having looked into it yet, is that they collect all kinds of info and snippets in all kinds of formats like text/pdf/websites/pics/handwritten notes/postits/scanned docs/etc, and organizes them so they are all together and easy to find and use. Sort of like an all-purpose electronic filing cabinet.

Now extend that just a bit and make it easier to use and make disk storage on these devices at the Terabyte level. Then assume that there's an established way to store and import and export this information. Imagine a digital pad (whether it be a pda or a digitized paper notepad or a digital set of postits or whatever), and a simple and fast scanner (which doesn't exist yet, at least at decent price points). You make notes or scan docs or whatever you want to do to "get documents" and you can store them on your Tablet. The disk drive is big enough you don't have to be too careful about what you put there. The search mechanism is able to index handwritten notes with, say, 50% accuracy, just enough to be useful for finding notes that you read with your eyes as handwritten notes. (So perfect text recognition is not needed.)

And imagine an interface that manipulates documents easily on the screen. Not even a 1/10 sec delay, but just like manipulating paper and paper pages with the feeling like you are really controlling it.

Put all that together with a great battery life and wireless synching to a server somewhere on the internet (new and improved and secure internet of course) and you have a great device. Oh, and don't forget a perfect bright display that is fast and looks even better than paper in light or dark situations.

Now tell me why the whole world will stick with paper and not want a Tablet PC!? You can even stick with paper and just scan it quickly into the Tablet PC if you have a decent scanner. I don't thing paper will go away, but it will supplement, not dominate. It may remain a key point of input/output, but the mid-section will be electronic, and the benefits will make it worth the transition between electronic and paper. Plus, with a good enough interface and display, the paper may be mostly for input not display.

And one more thing while I dream of the future...
Everyone seems to assume that ebooks are inferior because there's something nice about the tactile side of paper, and the cozy feel of a book in your hands, and the smell and so forth. I think that's short sighted because they are comparing to a really immature technology with horrible form factors, uncomfortable feeling devices, and terrible displays. If the electronics gets cheap, there will be luxury devices that feel so wonderful in your hand that you'll never want a paper book again unless it's for old time's sake. Just imagine how wonderful a device could be made to feel if the major expense of the device was to make it feel good, and people were spending a few hundred dollars for it. I'm betting that manufacturers can make it so delightful that I'd prefer it greatly to paper books!
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Old 09-15-2005, 11:29 AM   #3
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Whereas I used to think pen compuing was an inevitable evo of computing, after having a PDA for so many years, now a Treo and a tabletPC to go along with my 'normal' notebook. I see that computing will take on a more organic means of dispersion. I think that all of the afroementioned types of copmuting will play a part, with the issue being connectivitiy. That will be what become the computer, instead of the hardware, the software will be more the computer, with the hardware just how you are served to that connectivity.

Personal preference is digi ink for all apps, and a keyboard for those times when I just dont want to write. I like the idea of the 770. But would rather see it as a connected PalmOS PDA with Calligrapher
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