The Tablet PC Nonrevolution

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The Tablet PC Nonrevolution Powered By Docstoc
					 SIMSON GARFINKEL                                                   Putting technology to work for you

                                                                                                                     read text on the flat tablet than on a

The Tablet PC                                                                                                        clamshell laptop. And for applications
                                                                                                                     like taking inventory or filling out surveys,
                                                                                                                     the tablet format is clearly superior. My
                                                                                                                     daughter sure likes curling up with the

Nonrevolution                                                                                                        tablet on our couch while she surfs those
                                                                                                                     kids’ websites. And PC makers love the
                                                                                                                     way that turning a laptop into a tablet lets
                                                                                                                     them add $500 or more to its price.
                                                                                                                           But Microsoft is selling the tablet
                i ordinarily type my columns. but since this
                                                                                                                     short by trying to make it operate within
                column is about tablet computing, I decided to com-                                                  the traditional Windows framework. The
                pose it in longhand on the Compaq tc1100 tablet                                                      menu bars, pop-up controls, and scroll
                                                                                                                     bars of Windows have evolved over the
                computer that Hewlett-Packard lent me earlier this                                                   past 20 years for a computer that’s driven
year. ■ For people who never learned typing, or for those who find it                                                with a keyboard and mouse—not a pen.
a painful chore, writing on a computer’s screen and having your                                                      It’s downright awkward to try to fill a text
                                                                                                                     field by tapping it and then writing in the
words turned into beautiful text must be a liberating experience. I’ll                                               recognition area.
never know: I learned to type when I was                                                                                   One of the reasons that the original
in ninth grade and can easily crank out                                                                              Palm Pilot was so successful is that its
120 words per minute. Still, Microsoft’s
Tablet PC edition of Windows XP has a
                                                                     Tablet PCs spend a                              developers weren’t afraid to experiment
                                                                                                                     with new and frequently simpler inter-
handwriting recognizer that’s nearly flaw-                           large part of their                             action paradigms. Palm developed on-
less. This computer was able to recog-                                                                               screen widgets that were easy to use on a
nize my weird mixture of printing and
                                                                       lives serving as                              small display amidst a lot of visual dis-
cursive the very first time I picked up the                         traditional laptops,                             tractions. It came up with a fast way to
stylus: neither I nor the computer required                                                                          switch between applications and an inte-
any training. The tablet PC could even                              with the stylus snug                             grated database that freed users from
recognize my seven-year-old daughter’s
handwriting—misspellings and all! In
                                                                     in its holster while                            thinking about files and folders. Yes, you
                                                                                                                     can configure the Tablet PC version of
fact, it corrected each word as she went on                         the keyboard gets a                              Windows XP to let you enter text any-
to the next.
     Driving this high-quality handwriting
                                                                     vigorous workout.                               where, but Microsoft Word still thinks
                                                                                                                     that you are using a keyboard and a
recognition is an incredibly rich dictio-                                                                            mouse. Word doesn’t know about ges-
nary (built from millions of handwriting                            when editing, and it’s all too easy, when        tures like proofreader’s marks—things
samples), spelling and grammar smarts,                              wielding a stylus, to get a punctuation          that are easy to write with a pen but
and software that takes into account not                            mark wrong or flummox a word into                nearly impossible to input with a mouse.
just the electronic “ink” left on the page                          something that looks the same on the                   One good thing about tablets is that
but the movement of the pen as you                                  tablet PC’s small screen but has a com-          they’re pushing PC laptops in the right
write. None of it would be possible with-                           pletely different meaning.                       direction. The tc1100 unit that I tested
out today’s fast processors and huge                                     That’s why just about every tablet PC       weighs just 1.8 kilograms (four pounds),
memory chips. Computer hardware just                                on the market today has a keyboard hid-          yet it is loaded with input/output options
wasn’t up to the task a decade ago, when                            den underneath the writing surface. Just         including two USB ports, Ethernet, Wi-Fi
Garry Trudeau lambasted the Apple                                   lift up the screen, spin it around some          wireless networking, and a dial on the side
Newton in Doonesbury. Today the tables                              hidden hinge, and—voilà!—you have a              for fast scrolling. As these machines
have turned.                                                        traditional (albeit expensive) laptop com-       become more prevalent, I’m hoping that
     But while entering text is a joy with                          puter. And from my people-watching               the software catches up.
this computer, going back and editing it                            around MIT, it seems that tablet PCs                   Because it sure is comfortable to lie
is painful. It’s easy to correct the occa-                          spend a large part of their lives serving as     back on my couch while surfing those
sional mistake that the recognizer makes                            traditional laptops, with the stylus snug in     websites: the tablet is lighter, easier to
by selecting the word and then choosing                             its holster while the keyboard gets a vig-       hold, and easier to read, and the clamshell
an alternative interpretation from a pull-                          orous workout.                                   doesn’t get in my way. ◊
down menu. Serious moving around of                                      Tablet computing isn’t exactly a fraud,
                                                                                                                     Simson Garfinkel is an incurable gadgeteer,
words or ideas, though, is better left to the                       but it’s not the revolution that PC makers       an entrepreneur, and the author of 12 books
keyboard. That’s because precision counts                           would like it to be. I find it a lot easier to   on information technology and its impact.

80    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W J u l y / Au g u s t 2 0 0 4                                                                      w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m

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