Rant: Don’t Blame the Tablet Because You Suck

Rob and Warner have both tip-toed around Jeremy Toeman’s op-ed piece, “The Tablet That Nobody Really Wants “ I prefer a more direct approach. Here’s my take on Toeman’s main points (in bold).

Tablets suck at handwriting recognition. No, you suck at handwriting. Even Windows XP TPC Edition does a solid job of recognizing my finely crafted pen strokes. Don’t blame the tablet because you’ve let your penmanship lapse.

Tablets suck to carry around. No, it’s no worse than carrying around a laptop, but you don’t need to hunt for a flat surface to rest it on once you stop. If there are no seats left at the coffee shop, I can start working on my Tablet PC standing up. I’ve logged on to the hotspot while standing in line and started getting things done before ordering my drink. It’s as cumbersome to carry as a regular laptop, except it’s usable while being carried.

Tablets make you tired. No, you tire easily because you’re a wuss. Carrying a tablet and making use of more of your arms than just your wrists and fingers would help fix that and maybe give you those Tom Cruise biceps you mentioned.

Tablets can’t share nicely with others. Except if you’re using shared notebooks in OneNote or Evernote, jotting notes in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, shooting inked email in Outlook, annotating in Acrobat Standard, or just using handwriting recognition to enter text the old-fashioned way. Oh, and you can also just draw pictures for people, like directions and technical instructions.

Tablets suck at hiding smudges. You’re the one with poor personal hygiene and bad eating habits. Don’t blame the tablet because you don’t wipe or wash your hands after eating french fries.

Tablets are bad Web browsers. Clearly you’ve never used a Tablet PC with Firefox tricked out with FireGestures and Grab & Drag with ritePen macros for regular bookmarks. Yeah, if I’m writing something like a response to someone with no tablet experience, then typing on a full keyboard wins. However, for straight browsing, I will pit the pen against the mouse any day of the week, and the trackpad isn’t even a contender. I think the highly favorable reaction to web surfing on the iPhone proves a touchscreen can deliver an awesome web browsing experience.

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Tablets are priced poorly. Fine, you got me there, but the price premium for a good tablet is worth it to me.

Tablets suck at everything else. IM? Maybe. I don’t IM. Video chat? What, a screen with a camera won’t work well for video chat? Spreadsheets? I’ve actually worked with spreadsheets by pen, and it can be a very good experience. Setting up a spreadsheet with formulas, conditional formatting, etc., does require a good sitdown at the keyboard. But after that, entering data into cells by pen is very simple. Tap cells to select. Usually not a lot of text. Numbers can be quickly tapped out on the TIP keypad. Bonus: the eraser on a Wacom pen can be used to clear cells.

Yes, sadly, I think Toeman has revealed himself as yet another critic who sits at a keyboard typing in English all day, someone who would gain no benefit from a tablet, and lacks the imagination to see beyond his condition. Try working a complex math equation on a keyboard. Let’s see you write kanji with that mouse. Show me some real copy editing annotations. Draw someone a map. Write a loved one a letter. But please, do not blame the tablet because you suck at doing things that don’t involve typing. Thank you.

Comments

  1. tivoboy says

    Dude, one person flamed a device and the OTHER person flamed a PERSON. Something is wrong with that model, tighten it up sumocat.

  2. Nick says

    Very well said!! I debated for a while before I decided to get my X61 Tablet from Lenovo. Was it worth the price to get a tablet or not and would I really ever use it?? Heck yeah!!! I loved having all my school notes organized into one place. No more carrying around a bunch of notebooks paper and pens. Every class I used my tablet for taking notes and when it came to math class, I couldnt see how other kids in the class where able to write notes on their laptops as well as I could with my tablet!

    Now as for outside of the classroom, still use it everyday. Even more so now with Win7! It is so functional and anyone who says otherwise really just doesnt get it.

  3. vm-01 says

    Right on Sumocat!

    It’s about time we defend ourselves from the Engadget and Gizmodo types who bash tablets on sight and assume everyone uses a computer the same way.

  4. Niels says

    I think you failed to address the first point in the article: “the tablet that no one wanted”. Take a look in any big box computer store and I think it becomes quite clear that tablets are niche at best. The added price and the unfamiliar usage paradigm just doesn’t make them very relevant for everyday users. It’s great that you’ve found Jesus in your tablet pc, but most people are perfectly content with their classic laptop form factor and Despite Apple and Arrington’s best efforts I’m not sure that’s going to change radically anytime soon.

  5. GoodThings2Life says

    1) Right on!! I’ve been thinking the same thing since reading Toeman’s article, and was even annoyed that Matthew Miller wrote a similar article on ZDNet. Tablet’s don’t suck, your use of computers is too confining!

    2) I’ve got three co-workers (at the executive level) who I’ve introduced tablets to, and they now sit in their meetings more engaged and better prepared, because they not only have instant access to all their data and apps, but also because they have quick, searchable access to their notes! On top of that, one of them has terrible handwriting and it STILL recognizes what they’re trying to say most of the time, so what was that smart ass comment about handwriting recognition? Oh, it works great when you learn how to write? That’s what I thought!

    3) With regard to attacking the person instead of the device… sometimes it’s silly, but times like this are appropriate because the person is blatantly being hostile and dishonest.

  6. Dave P says

    Amen. The only thing I’d change is the comment on “tablets suck to carry.” I was using a three pound Motion slate back when an ultralight laptop meant one that weighed under five pounds. I now have an OQO that weighs a pound and fits in my pocket.

    What also needs to be mentioned is the things that can never be done with a laptop while they can be done easily with a tablet. Anyone who ever gives a presentation should try it with a tablet. I can use the pen to highlight slides or add clarification during the discussion. I can also capture comments on the slide itself as those comments are made. For collaborative meetings which would normally fill up flip charts, I use blank slides as an electronic whiteboard. Plus, with my 3G I can email the marked up presentation to everybody so it will be waiting when they get back to their desks.

    I’m old enough to remember when professionals didn’t type. They either wrote things out or dictated them. I look forward to a world where handwriting and voice recognition can once again free us from QWERTY.

  7. Brook says

    I love ink, anyone who ever used a digitizer will tell you how well it works, even when the device sucks, the inking experience cannot be beat. having said that, I don’t have the any devices that I ink on, I have a Q1UP and a Viliv S5 but inking is not the best on such a small screen, I know many love inking on a 5 inch screen, but my handwriting sucks, and so I need a more forgiving device, I do miss the X41, anyone want to trade a Q1UP? for a X tablet?

  8. Piet says

    “tivoboy” above said “one person flamed a device and the OTHER person flamed a PERSON”
    In that statement lies the real problem with all things that try to interpret handwriting, speech (“wreck a nice beach”) and so on. Actually, I don’t know if there is a “so on”. But I digress.

    If you type on a keyboard, and you hit a “s” instead of an “a” (and you notice it) you say something like “Oops, dearie, I made a mistake”. On the other hand, if you scrawl the word “autoeroticism” on your tablet and it interprets it as “automatic”, you scream unpublishables at the top of your lung. Of course these feelings are only natural, and it is healthy for a young man to vent his disappointed feelings about the fact that he has blown $2000 on a device that can’t even recognise common English, and soothing blah blah blah…

    The point is with a keyboard, YOU (person as above) are to blame, and you know it. With handwriting or speech recognition, the DEVICE as above is to blame. And sucks. Because your handwriting is, like the author’s perfect. I mean, you can read it, right?

  9. john s. says

    I have been using tablets for about 5-6 years now after graduating undergrad. I went from the m205 Toshiba all the way up the IBM/Lenovo ladder now to the x200 tablet. I used it in sales and am now using it in MBA school. Its incredible for school.

    Honestly my biggest fear about an Apple tablet would be if it failed. What I see happening are the Apple zombies buying not based on needs and then when they realize they have no need or want for a tablet, its the tablets fault and not their. I just think it could give a black eye to an already beleaguered market when it comes to tablets.

    The biggest limit is and always has been software and I question how fast Apple could possibly create enough programs to be ink-able when we aren’t even satisfied with what is out there for our PC tablets. I don’t see how they could do it fast enough to make it worth it.

    john

  10. Flash says

    So what if they are a niche. So are Ferraris, CT scanners and heart lung machines. Just because something isn’t understood/used/relevant by the majority does not lessen it’s usefulness to those who know how to make it sing.

    Gordon

  11. Kahm says

    I love my tablets, and use them for everything from Studying Japanese, reading, drawing, and designing. Onenote and Evernote are our saviours.

    However, using Onenote, evernote, or a drawing application illustrates why handwriting on a tablet sucks. The recognition works, but the TIP is clumsy and annoying. In Onenote, I just scribble wherever I want text. Using the TIP, I have to keep it out of the way of what I’m doing and write within very specific confines. One way is very natural and proves the viability of the interface. The other way is artificial, annoying, and inefficient.

    As for price, there’s a very good reason tablets are expensive. You’ll be looking at your screen from at least 2 different orientations, and doing that well costs money. (HP Tx2000 (Mine is a tx2114ca) – horrible screen! ~$1200. Futjitsu T series Lifebook (mine is a T4020) – Gorgeous unit, ~$2200)

    The other reason is that a tablet with a poor general build quality won’t last long. Laptops spend most of their life in a bag or on a desk. The tablet, being more personal and immediate, gets used in a larger variety of situations.

  12. Dodot says

    Anybody else here feel that handwriting recognition is just the icing on the cake? I really feel that having the ability to digitally ink is the cake. To market handwriting recognition (for text input) is to try to sell Tablet PCs to the public based on a second best feature – this was one of the theses of an article recently linked to here. Handwiriting recognition in Tablet PCs has steadily improved from version to version of Windows OS with support for the platform (even cynics may find themselves pleasantly surprised at what Windows 7 has to offer in this regard), but it seems unrealistic to expect overtake the keyboard-and-mouse combination when it comes to inputting textual information. What Tablet PCs (I’m thinking primarily of those with active digitizers) bring to the table goes beyong being a proxy for the keyboard, it is a medium that takes advantage of the dexterity of our hands – its advanced abilities to facilitate the thought process, and its well-developed means of communicating ideas. Digital ink is a kind of information in its self, and in some special situations prove to be more useful than just textual information. Perhaps if people – mainstream media? – were to be less cynical about the platform, they’d be able to take the blinders off long enough to see how wonderful inking is.

  13. Jeremy Toeman says

    Mark,

    What a terrible way to make your argument. I’m seriously disappointed that you would stoop to such a level just because you have a crush on tablets. You like them? Great. I’m happy for you. I think the fact that you take a personal approach to your response to my OPINION is, in a word, pathetic.

    Maybe if I’d had written “Tablet Users Suck and are Stupid and Live in their Parents’ Basements” it would be fair game, but I didn’t.

    Oh, and regarding the retort “Clearly you’ve never used a Tablet PC with Firefox tricked out with FireGestures and Grab & Drag with ritePen macros for regular bookmarks.” Really? Gee, that sounds perfectly ready for mainstream use, because of all the people who love to install plugins and macros. Way to show me how well you understand consumers.

    Regards,
    Jeremy

  14. Ben says

    @dodot- I agree. I’d love to see more applications that can use raw ink instead of text, but there just aren’t that many. I think this is going to be even more of a problem when you consider that webapps are becoming more and more popular. None of google’s apps support ink. Window’s Live doesn’t. I’m extremely skeptical that Office Live OneNote will support ink.

  15. GoodThings2Life says

    @Jeremy Toeman,

    On the contrary, pretty much everyone here thinks Sumocat is exactly right in his arguments, because we have all spent more than just 5 minutes playing with tablets. Your arguments against tablets remind me of a kid who didn’t read the instructions for that fancy toy and then complains that it doesn’t work.

    In fact, every single one of your claims against the tablet is absolutely, factually incorrect and invalid, and Sumocat outlines it pretty well.

    I’ve been using a tablet for 5 years now, and even on XP’s handwriting recognition is nearly perfect with my handwriting (and about 95% when import my spell-check entries into the tablet dictionary), and on Windows 7 with a few training sessions makes it even better based on your own natural handwriting, not just what they designed it to be.

    And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. You complain about carrying one around, but my HP Elitebook 2730p is not only functional but a mere 3.5lbs, and I carry it around for 7 out of 8 hours of my day at a hospital… and I’m practically a 90-lb weakling.

    Sumocat’s rant (and he openly calls it such) hits you right where it matters— the facts.

  16. GoodThings2Life says

    @Ben,

    Actually, Windows Live Messenger *does* support inking… both as TIP-enabled or as actual ink.

    Windows Live Writer *should* support it, and there is even an older plugin that enabled it. It wouldn’t take much to update and integrate that into the software for future builds.

  17. Josh Einstein says

    Best line: Tablets make you tired. No, you tire easily because you’re a wuss.

    Let’s see… I guess cell phones suck because they were big, bulky, expensive, and few people owned them. Yeah, cell phones… that’s a doomed technology.

  18. Sumocat says

    @ Jeremy: I’m disappointed you would go serious on me after going so over-the-top in your post. You throw out straight lines about Tom Cruise biceps and french fry fingers and I can’t riff on that? How do you expect people to not make fun of that?

    That said, I’ve read many of these types of arguments before and written several responses, nailing pretty much all the same points, and it invariably leads back to a writer not thinking outside their comfort zone, condemning the form factor because they don’t “get” it. Sorry, but it’s not personal, and you’re among good but equally desk-bound company.

    Or think about it this way: if I ranted against keyboards and, in the process, implied that I can’t type, would it be wrong to point out the flaw in my logic in equal manner? (FYI, I’ve repeatedly stated I don’t like keyboards that aren’t full-sized, but I always specify that’s because I have fat fingers and thumbs, or something to that effect, not because they suck.)

  19. Ben says

    @GoodThings2Life
    Ah, i see. Thanks for the info. I had thought i read that Windows Live Messenger would support ink, but after an admittedly short period of playing with the beta, i gave up. besides…no one i know uses MSN for chatting–it’s all google talk and AIM. as far as i know, windows live messenger doesn’t work as a client for those services (though i also read they might support some of them at some point).

    also, i did specify web-apps. neither windows live messenger or live writer are web apps. i’m pretty sure that the browser versions of the things i mentioned earlier don’t support ink.

  20. Dodot says

    @Jeremy Toeman

    I think this article was more of an attack on the VOICE that you used. Yes it was in response to your article, and you are blameless if you feel as if it were an attack on your person, but it’s the cynical, dismissive voice that’s the more significant target of Sumocat’s response. In some ways the Tablet PC platform is still an emerging technology and the unique functionality-set that it offers is still very much at the margins, a bit off from the mainstream/status quo. Naturally there will be cynics, and there will be cynical and dismissive views about something that has yet to go mainstream; but if you believe in the platform and you find something off/misinformed about what was very publicly expressed, you can’t be blamed for responding in kind. It wasn’t that too long ago that laptops were similarly fringe devices, “why would you need an expensive, bulky, ‘portable’ computer?”, yet now they are about as mainstream as they can get. And back when they weren’t mainstream devices, I’m sure its defenders/believers didn’t take cynical comments lying down either.

    Just something to think about.

  21. Jeremy Toeman says

    @Bob – thanks.

    @Sumocat – you *could* have riffed on what I wrote, but you didn’t. you attacked me, period.

    @Dodot – thanks for taking the time for your thoughts, I think they were well-said.

  22. Sumocat says

    @Bob: Except in this case, part of the initial argument stems directly from personal experience or lack thereof and were not logical in the first place. If I said “keyboards suck,” then revealed I can’t type, can’t sit in one place for more than a few minutes, and constantly get crumbs between the keys, those flaws would be completely valid points. Yes, they’re personal but they also form the basis of my argument. I put them there, not someone else.

    Likewise, I don’t think I hit Jeremy on anything that wasn’t supplied, directly or indirectly, in his argument, until I concluded with a comparison to others who’ve made the same mistake of projecting their personal limitations as flaws of a device. If you disagree, I’ll be glad to evaluate your argument, but saying something’s personal or ad hominem does not make it so.

  23. Jeremy Toeman says

    “projecting their personal limitations as flaws of a device.”

    “Yes, sadly, I think Toeman has revealed himself as yet another critic who sits at a keyboard typing in English all day, someone who would gain no benefit from a tablet, and lacks the imagination to see beyond his condition.”

  24. Sumocat says

    @ Jeremy: I just stated the conclusion was drawn from outside the argument and that it was exactly what I intended it to be: a comparison to others who have made the same argument. I could have worded it less harshly, but is it accurate? I think your argument, like others before it, is built around your reliance on the keyboard, and that reliance is not a flaw of the device. That makes it a valid point to dispute, but I am open to explanation to the contrary.

    To put it another way: If I argued marathons are stupid and my argument appeared built around the fact that I’m fat and slow, I think you’d be within your rights to call me on that, and I’d dispute it by showing why that’s not an accurate assessment.

  25. Jeremy Toeman says

    The subtle difference between our arguments is as follows (which I am presently blogging about)…

    What I wrote I would say to you, in person. I would have no fear of your response, and it would engage us in debate.

    What you wrote you would probably not say to me in person. You’d only say it with your keyboard or behind my back.

    Thus making your argument personal.

  26. Sumocat says

    What? Me not saying it in person makes it personal? Okay, that’s the opposite of what I call personal. And I did direct two comments straight at you with the same message, and now we’re virtually face-to-face with me restating the same thing. That’s not really behind your back.

    As for me only saying it with my keyboard, well, that’s about as hilarious as claiming I wouldn’t say any of that to your face. The difference between me on the web and me in real life is that I control my language on the web. This is me restrained. However, since you are taking this personally and leaving a tech discussion, I will end my part of the discussion here and “take it outside”. Please do me a favor and direct people to Sumocat’s Scribbles to hit me in person.

  27. Wevenhuis says

    I disagree on the issue of handwriting recognition. It has come quite far over the years and windows 7 handwriting to text recogntion has improved greatly, but recogntion are still present too much. Also the computer has a hard time to recognize whole blogs of text. You end up writing sentence by sentence, greatly decreasing the flow of writing and thus decreasing freedom of movement and efficiency. Also language support in other languages has much to be desired, much to my own frustration. Also microsoft has finally added a math input panel for recognizing math formula’s. Unfortunately still inadequate chemical formula ink support and yet again poor recogntion, even when you write neatly! Above all it is not integrated with the microsoft TIP, but separte, much to my frustration.

  28. Niels says

    It’s quite interesting following this discussion. It remind me in many ways of the whole “XXXX is the year of Linux on the desktop” discussion. X% of faithful believers love a certain technology very much and when it’s not adopted by the mainstream it’s easier to blame Regular Joe for sucking than it is to admit that the technology still needs work or might not have much to offer for the vast majority of the market.

    I think this quote from Sumocat’s article beautifully shows the divide between tablet geeks and mainstream:
    “Clearly you’ve never used a Tablet PC with Firefox tricked out with FireGestures and Grab & Drag with ritePen macros for regular bookmarks.”

    If a given piece of software requires you to install extensions and macros to provide a good user experience it’s not going to make it big. Most people are still just learning that “the internets” doesn’t equate to IE – all this stuff is way over their heads.

    I’m not trying to demean tablets. A lot of people here love them and good for you guys. It’s just not really helping the Tablet Cause to beat up on people who are merely expressing the voice of 99% of consumers out there.

  29. Brett G says

    With you 100% Sumocat… Still love a keyboard and use one regularly but I could never live without a pen now! Why should I not have both!

    @Niels: There no evidence at all to suggest that 99% of consumers think tablet pcs suck. My experience is that they are very accepted by consumers. What holds them back from purchasing is simply the price difference over a laptop or netbook.

    That could change in a big way in the near future…

  30. Maxim says

    I totally agree with everything here, but I should add that even if your handwriting sucks Vista handwriting recognition still does a great job. One of my friends was very sceptical about Onenote recognition capabilities, especially since noone can make much sense of his scribbles. Yet he was really surprised how precise it turned out to be when he tried it.

  31. Nameless says

    My experiences with this old HP TC1100 is that Tablet PCs just work well for me, especially with OneNote and SketchBook Pro. Those who say that tablets are hard to take notes on clearly aren’t taking math notes or other subject matter that requires more than plain text (formulas and diagrams in particular), and as for drawing, I’ve found that putting the pen directly to the screen works a lot better for me than a typical Wacom tablet decoupled from the screen. The main appeal is that, as a person who HATES juggling pen and paper, the Tablet PC allows me to have an entirely digital workflow, where I’m just far more comfortable. (Now, if the schools would just give me e-books so that I don’t have to lug around so many extra books in addition to all the handouts I can’t keep track of…)

    At 4 pounds with the keyboard attached, it does have some heft, but not enough to make me exhausted over long periods of cradling it in my arm. I could shave it down to 3.1 pounds by taking off the keyboard, but I leave it on because the extra weight doesn’t bother me and I still often finding myself needing the keyboard. There are probably lighter models out now, perhaps some closer to or even UNDER the 3-pound mark WITH a keyboard.

    Also, I’ve impressed quite a few people with this TC1100. I showed them things like OneNote and Windows 7’s Tablet Input Panel, and also highlighted the detachable keyboard. (Who says tablets can’t have physical keyboards too?) They were soon asking me how much it costs so they could go out and buy one, to which I reply “250 US$ will generally be enough for a TC1100, though you may want to have a bit more for accessories”.

    My guess is that they’re largely not being adopted because people don’t know they exist, and when they find out, all the new ones are expensive. There are affordable tablets, but they’re all used/refurbished on eBay and the like. It’s not like there’s a big public aversion to Tablet PCs from my experience, though there are people out there who DO know what they are, don’t like them, and explain why. (Those people tend to prefer pen and paper, whereas tablet advocates like myself want as little to do with pen and paper as possible.)

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