Hot Topic: Building a Better Tablet

The tablet race is just getting started, yet people are already talking about making them better. Folks at both Business Insider and Technologizer are challenging LG’s claim that they’ll build a tablet better than the iPad. Engadget is asking HP Touchsmart tm2 owners how they’d change their Tablet PCs. It’s like a forum topic on the best/ideal/perfect tablet spread to the blogosphere.

First, LG made a point to specify their tablet will focus on content creation, “such as writing documents, editing video and creating programs.” Dan Frommer at Business Insider asks “how in the world” they can make their tablet better than the iPad. Jared Newman of Technologizer points out the tablet form factor, not the software, is the key limiting factor here and rounds up other arguments to support his point.

As most of us know, tablets that can create documents, edit video, and create programs have been around for years. (In fact, I’m creating this document on one right now.) However, they haven’t exactly set the world on fire, have they? Making a tablet “better” than the iPad is more than possible. Making one that can match the iPad in the market is a different matter.

Over at Engadget, they’re asking readers how they’d improve their HP Touchsmart tm2 Tablet PCs. Their specific questions include asking if the CPU is up to speed and whether they’d want resistive touch instead of capacitive. The irony in this line of questioning is that the tm2 is itself a major turnaround in these areas, switching from the hot-running AMD processors in its predecessors and advancing to pen + capacitive multi-touch with Wacom dual-digitizers. Most of the comments from folks who actually have the tm2 (who seem to be in the minority of commenters) ignore those points and focus on the display and other features.

Despite protests to the contrary, I agree with LG that there is much room for improvement over the iPad and also that there’s a lot more to be done with Tablet PCs. And it’s not just a matter of faster processors, better battery life, higher resolution, and the other usual suspects from the “dream” tablet list. Hardware improvements are important, but look at the major interface improvements that Bill Gates repeatedly pushes. Voice command, handwriting recognition, touch and pen control, the hardware to make these happen is already here; what we’re waiting on is the software to make them great. That’s where I see the grand improvements to the tablet experience happening. Where do you see them happening?

Comments

  1. Medic says

    I think you highlighted the most important point. The technology has certainly been present since 2005. I have a Lenovo X60 tablet. Software and an improved user interface are two areas on which more attention should go to. Windows 7 already has the TIP and the MIP. Now let’s be more creative and practical with the input method and a single file extention (like .mp3 or .docx). The iPad, OneNote and MS Journal are just a couple of examples of what is possible. What about the Courier? I say, yes let’s focus more on the software. After this we can perhaps pay more attention to the hardware side of things.

  2. GoodThings2Life says

    Right now, the HP Slate *sounds* like it will hit a sweet spot with me in terms of form and function as long as it has pen-input. If it doesn’t then yeah, I’ll have to look elsewhere, but all the images we’ve seen of it make it look ideal for my tastes and interests.

  3. GoodThings2Life says

    Oh, and as for software, yes… but Windows 7 already has the functionality. We need software that will actually take advantage of it. Personally, I only care about Outlook and OneNote about 90% of my day, but the other 10% is dealing with Excel and various Microsoft and Cisco administrative tools– not a single one of which is pen/finger friendly.

    • ChrisRS says

      This discussion would be very different if the MS Ofiice team had embraced the Tablet bits years ago. Office sets the interface tone for lots of appliaitons; MS Office team ignores Tablet/ink – the software industry ignores Tabley/ink

  4. Tom M. says

    I have an earlier version of the HP. We need instant on, 10 hour computing, and maybe a little less weight. MS Onenote is the killer application that few seem to know about.

  5. Benjamin Ries says

    Here’s the “better” tablet:

    Slate.
    Pixel Qi screen.
    Wacom dual-mode active(pen)/capacitive(multitouch) digitizer.
    User-upgradeable RAM, HDD, battery.
    PCI Express slot.
    HDMI-out.
    Accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor.
    Runs Windows 7.
    Under 1″ and 3 lbs.

    I’d buy this for $1200. I don’t really care what kind of of CPU it has or whether the size is 7″, 8″, 10″ or 12″, but right now Pixel Qi is focussing on 10.1″ widescreen for production and their display panel costs $275 direct to consumers (so I’m assuming the wholesale cost is closer to $250).

    It has been correctly argued on this site before: beat the iPad by retaining most of the same functionality and then expanding to features the iPad lacks. Those are: pen input, Pixel Qi screen, user-upgradeable. This is a serious slate that replaces the iPad and Kindle toys.

    If it had an Atom processor, I’d slap a Broadcom Crystal HD card in there. I’d use my smartphone as a bluetooth GPS receiver and a WWAN modem. I’d eventually move the thing to 2 GB of RAM and a giant HDD. Others might go with the 1 GB + SSD config.

    I’m sick of Android slates that require me to still have a laptop for serious work. I’m sick of convertable Tablet PCs that are as thick and heavy as their laptop equivalents. I want a slate that replaces a laptop while offering real savings in weight and thickness by ditching the keyboard.

    • ChrisRS says

      @Benjamin Ries

      Great Comment!

      You said:
      1 Slate.
      2 Pixel Qi screen.
      3 Wacom dual-mode active(pen)/capacitive(multitouch) 4 digitizer.
      4 User-upgradeable RAM, HDD, battery.
      5 PCI Express slot.
      6 HDMI-out.
      7 Accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor.
      8 Runs Windows 7.
      9 Under 1″ and 3 lbs
      10 I don’t really care what kind of of CPU it has or whether the size is 7″, 8″, 10″ or 12″,

      My comments
      1 YES! Save some weight
      2 Pixel Qi – OPTIONAL, unless the price delta is in the $50 range
      3 Wacom pen is a must! For me touch is way less important, but Steve Jobs and public percetion wants it, so it is a must as well.
      4 Yes … Absolutly. Up to 4 GB RAM.
      5 ** I don’t know.
      6 ** Yes
      7. Yes.
      8. Yes. Absolutly. Put on touch UI “skin” or allow use of 3rd party skins.
      9 This seems reasonabe. Weight would depend on screen size.
      10 Put in a powerful enough processor to allow real production work. Consider multiple sizes. I REALLY WANT A 13 14-INCH SCREEN FOR AUTOCAD, ETC.! Some users favor mobilty – use anywhere, including stall surfing. Some users want portability – moving from one location to another, but generally have a place to sit and work. BOTH sets of users are RIGHT; serve them both. (Regarding screen size, when you hit 40 or 50, you may appreciate larger text/screen size.)

      I would add:

      11 Dedicated Graphics processor OPTOION (switchable from onboard graphices for power savings).

      12 A highly optimized power configuration:
      MAX Battery life: (iPad Mode) Shut down processor cores, slow down clock speed, dim display, power down AUTOMATICLY CLOSE ALL CRAPWARE PROCESSES
      PRODUCTION MODE: Using AC Power – Everthing on.
      INTERMEDIATE SETTINGS; A few programmed options. THe user should not hace ot be a geek and figure this all out on theisr own.

      13 A good docking/port addition solution. USB or an industry standard would be great. it should allow the Tablet to be set up in either landscape or portrait mode, and have a long enogh cable to allow convenient use as a digitzer (WACOM) when set up in a desktop configuration with an external monitor.

      • ChrisRS says

        ITEM 12 SHOULD HAVE READ:

        12 A highly optimized power configuration:
        MAX Battery life: (iPad Mode) Shut down processor cores, slow down clock speed, dim display, power down USB, Bluettoth, radios, ports, etc. Disable multitqasking and background processes. AUTOMATICLY CLOSE ALL CRAPWARE PROCESSES
        PRODUCTION MODE: Using AC Power – Everthing on.
        INTERMEDIATE SETTINGS; A few programmed options. THe user should not hace ot be a geek and figure this all out on theisr own.

  6. qdewolf says

    I agree with chrisrs the tablet must be able to replace the laptop. this is the evolution of the pc. the ipad is purely transitional. I use an hp tm2.

    • Shiloh says

      How do you like your tm2? I have a tx 2000 and am thinking about upgrading. How is the performance and weight if you hold it in slate?

      • Quentin Dewolf says

        The tm2 is a little heavy but I get discreet graphics and a smooth wonderful experience. i do miss the hardware buttons that i was used to on my toshiba tablets that i had in the past. I run the Adobe production master suite, 3D production work, and full development work on it. I did replace the harddrive with an ssd which sped it up significantly. one downside is that it only does 80211N on the 2.4 and not the 5ghz randge. It is the most graphically powerful tabletpc out there. Between the ssd and the discreet graphics it screams.

  7. Shiloh says

    Thank you for this post. I hope that the pc tablets will soon be more interesting.
    What I would like is something similar to the macbook air as a convertible tablet with battery life and enough power to run the adobe suite while on the road. Make this affordable and I think it would be a winner.
    -Aloha

  8. Feralboy says

    I’m went from a Lenovo x60 to a TM2 and I love the machine, but there are a few things they did wrong, in my opinion, and a few issues that they did right, but were initially dinged for. Overall, for a resonaby priced tablet PC, it’s something of a bargain. The one sticking point is the screen…it’s way too glossy for a tablet and the viewing angle is horrible. But, after a few weeks, you get over it. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fixed, just that you end up tilting the screen to get it at an appropriate angle and move on. The surprising “mistake” turned out to be something of a bonus: the battery hump. When typing, it’s great, as it gives just the right amount of angle to the screen. Now, when using it as a tablet for inking, I thought I’d hate it with a fiery blazing passion, but, with the lower resolution (over my high rez Lenovo), I’ve found that in tablet mode I work in landscape mode more on this machine, and the hump at the back raises it and actually enhances writing on in. In fact, I often slide a book under it, raising it even higher. Speed is good — no notibible slow downs for me and I have one of the first machines released.

    In the end, thinner and lighter would be great. As it is, I’m pretty happy with it. Now, lets see if we can’t convince a few developers to work on ink-enabling their apps, though, for me OneNote meets most of my software needs pretty handily.

  9. GTaylor says

    Sumo, you pointed out the key, marketing. All of the points made in the comments are good developmental criteria and I would praise everyone of them. But all of them together are discussion points and blog fodder.

    Marketing plan, to answer your question:
    The market is people who work with their own computer. That means professionals, mobile workers, home office types, and any person who is using their portable for more than just touching.
    1. Slimplify. This is the biggest challange because Microsoft has built mountian range complexities in the most productive software available for productive computing. It’s no wonder that that fingering guy has captured the ‘don’t confuse me’ generation with his tablette.
    2. There aren’t really any other points past identifying the real potential market and simplifying the use as much as possible. There are so many points in that, that even Microsoft couldn’t make it more dense. Just make a start. The slate already makes using a portable computer simpler in many mobile situations. Any start in making One Note, Word, et. al., easer to learn and use will be a marketing motivator for the new generation of pc tablets that will not soon be exhausted.

  10. JimAtLaw says

    Make it *thin*, not an inch but 10mm or less – other than Apple, no one is making a device thin and light enough to be comfortable in the hands for extended periods. Ever since NEC retired its line of thin tablets, ending with the VY11 slate I still have, no one but Apple has made a thin, light slate that you can actually hold for a while without getting uncomfortable. NEC, and now Apple, got this right.

  11. dstrauss says

    I would really love to see a 1/2″, 10-hour, OneNote eating slate with Wacom digitizer, but fear that is still a long way on the horizon. It just takes too much “juice” to deliver those specs. I sure hope I’m wrong (come on HP, release the Slate prisoner already), but despite Win7’s improvements, full fledged MS apps are going to drain batteries. That’s why Pages, DocsToGo, and QuickOffice are stil a little less than Word-lite in capability and compatibility.

    That leads to my second thought Mr. Ma – if LG is going to smoke the iPad on content creation, what in heavens name on the Android platform are you relying on for MS Office compatability? There’s nothing there now that matches the current iPad options, which only get you half way there as it is. Do you have a secret deal with MS for the real Office-Lite? Otherwise, tone down teh retoric a couple of decibles.

  12. aj says

    I had* a TM2, but as Sumocat noticed, there’s very little TM2 discussion going on in that thread so I’d like to weigh in here.

    I know the display is not one of Engadget’s “better” tablet questions, but you can’t blame the TM2 owners for bringing it up. If HP was going to do just one thing differently, that would HAVE to be it. As Sumocat mentioned, the TM2 does so many of the “better” tablet breakthrough things right… but for some reason they really dropped the ball on some basic design flaws. The thing is flat-out a pain in the ass to use due to viewing angle, weight balance, and shape/grip. Other than that, it’s high powered, has HDMI out, good resolution, and a good (but not Lenovo paper-like) inking experience. If they could just make it as comfortable to use as an iPad, you would HAVE your perfect tablet.

  13. Sln says

    There are multiple use cases that don’t necessarily require the same device. It would be nice but due to cost reasons it might be worthwhile to target them separately. The first use case replaces paper for note taking, book readers, provides PIM, calculator and Internet browsing. The implementation will requirer an active digitizer. Think. OneNote plus Outlook plus calculator plus a few popular book readers plus browser. USB port and wifi required, cellular and capacitive touch optional. Reasonable video playback and audio mic and speakers. Front vid camera deluxe option. Flash memory only plus sd slot added bonus.

    No app store required, just stable apps that upgrade when necessary.

    Payback… Lawyers, students… And a ton of trees saved… Huge impact… Watch out for the paper lobby. :)

    • GTaylor says

      Yes, good example of harmonizing hardware with real customer need rather than on marketing the newest features. What I like about the approach is that manufacturers can easily swap components of both the hardware and software to fine tune the solution for the customer’s need.

  14. Sln says

    The challenge is to combine capacitive touch with active digitizer and to get it to market asap. Steve Jobs is very smart and the iPad is quite functional. But let’s get real. Man has been using a stylus/writing implement since 3100 BCE and it is still a primary implement today. Smart yes, but telling the world that “If you see a stylus…they blew it” Sorry Steve. 5000 years of history and it’s still a primary implement. Even you will not change it. I’m typing on your beautiful iPad, it’s a great device but unfortunately can’t replace my pad and pen. There are just a few million or billion of us that like writing with a stylus or pen. We don’t even care about converting the ink to text; we like our scribbles and doodles too. Just let us search the handwritten text. OneNote got this right, it just needs the right hardware slate platform.

    The first company to get this right will truly change the world, which has more than 3 million plus ipad users in it….

  15. Jesse B Andersen says

    I was excited to see the post at Engadget, but got super disappointed at the amount of idiots posting nothing relevant to the topic.

    I don’t own a TM2 but I do own a Lenovo S10-3T which doesn’t offer the stylus option. Obviously I want both stylus and finger input. The stylus can offer so much more precision. I have followed the TM2 for the longest time so I’m well informed with all of its issues.

    What I wish was improved on tablets:

    No crapware/bloatware. All of the companies that run Windows OS love to add these additions that slow the computer down and make them unusable. Obviously this angers any person that just bought that “new and fast” computer.

    Useful touch software. Most of what’s included in the system is a joke. Windows already does most of the things that the extra software does (like playing music, or video, or viewing pictures). How about something that will enable me to create/edit something.

    The TM2 and S10-3T have viewing angle problems, I have compared it to the iPad and the iPad’s got such awesome viewing angles.

    Tablets will become useful when they can work out in the sun ala Pixel Qi style. As of now they have been marketed as the go anywhere and do something machine, but they are so restrained to indoors because of most glossy screens. The TM2 and the S10-3T suffer from this glossy screen. Matte would be better.

    The virtual keyboard in Windows 7 is a joke. If you have tried the iPad you know that the virtual keyboard adapts to the type of input. It also moves the user interface so you can see where you are typing. Windows 7’s Tabtip or OSK cover and block where you are typing. Which is a horrible tablet experience.

    Dedicated mobility cards like gaming laptops. Most tablets proud themselves on the latest processor, but they ignore the graphics which is essential to render things. The TM2 has an ok mobility card and has an ok Core i5. I would like to see a Radeon 5870 and Core i7 in it. Can I use the TM2 with Sony Vegas and edit 1080p video? Can I play 3D games on the TM2, yes but I have to lower settings.

    Easy programming API, like really easy. So… Windows needs a good and easy to program API. As a matter of fact, they should make a BlitzMax multi-touch plugin so anyone can program multi-touch programs. Instead we get bits of documentation that is scattered all over the internet. It’s so bad… What are all these thousands of developers at Microsoft doing anyways? iOS has done this well, how many apps are there for the iPod Touch and iPad that use multi-touch? thousands if not millions.

    Obviously these touch apps need a place where they can be shared and bought. Windows software is spread all over the internet and a marketplace as a unified source for touch specific apps would be very handy.

    Solid machine names, do you remember the XYZ500 something tablet from Toshiba? No. Do you remember the iPad? yes. Obviously companies feel they need to make like 20 versions of the same laptop and give it a slightly different number name. Apple has the formula right, just call it something that sticks.

    Price is a big deal because it enables to create buzz. If more people can buy it then more media can be created about it, which is a snowball effect. This is something that has sucked with tablets, you can get a crappy tablet for less than $1000 or can get a decent tablet for $2000 and it still doesn’t include mobility graphics card. Obviously the HP TM2 is well priced. The S10-3T is well priced too, around $500. The Viliv S10 is horribly priced. The iPad can probably afford to be priced the way it is because of the amount of media that makes money for Apple (like iTunes, Apps store, Books Store, and so on). This formula has been practiced by video game companies (Nintendo makes a device that makes money off software, not hardware)

    No booting up time!!! The iPad’s got it right, touch the button and the system is up and running.

    Obviously keep the keyboard, as that is what I’m using to type this message with my S10-3T. There so many more possibilities with the tablet format than with just the slate. It’s like everything combined into one and now the user can use it as he/she wants. It’s all about creating a good experience for the user.

    If you want to see my tips on what I have done to make my Lenovo S10-3T better check lenovos103t (dot) com.

  16. Nameless says

    Ever since I had a hands-on with an iPad, I came to the realization that the technology for an ideal tablet does indeed exist, and that someone has to put it all together-and hold it together with the software.

    Some folks at Microsoft already know this. Too bad that Microsoft as a whole decided not to follow up with that and release the Courier.

    I think that the biggest problem is marketing. I’ve probably sold more Tablet PCs than Microsoft and partners just showing off my own systems with OneNote and how it works for me. People don’t know what sets these things apart until I show them the power of a good Wacom pen and software built to leverage it.

    But now that slates are hitting the mainstream, they’re either seen as oversized smartphones or keyboard-less laptops. That’s not really what I’m looking for.

    I’m looking for a paper alternative. Something more dynamic, more flexible than that dead tree stuff and the ink printed on it. Based on the reactions of some people I’ve met after showing them OneNote, I’m probably not alone. The market is out there, but nobody’s specifically targeting it.

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