How do you get it on with your Tablet?

Lets move forward folks!

Lets move forward folks!

One of the best features of a tablet PC is that it does not require external input devices. On slate tablets in particular the lack of a keyboard and track pad, as well as the slim form factor makes them portable, easy to use and in many ways downright fun. Ultimately although the concept of “what is” a tablet is clear, the reality can be very different.

For many people the multi-touch approach only goes so far. Eventually, things like personalization or input speed have an impact. This is why standardization, other than the iPad, has yet to occur in the Tablet space. With an increase in devices available on the market manufacturers are still vying for that lucrative “second place” to the iPad. I still think that better input methods will lead to tablet glory, so in this post I thought I’d cover off some thoughts on each.

Handwriting Recognition

Windows tablets were always built around handwriting recognition and the Tablet Input Panel (TIP). The technology has advanced rapidly since the Windows XP days and today’s Windows 7 tablets are quite efficient at picking up your handwriting quirks in many languages (as well as mathematical symbols). The iPad, and Android tablets, do not share this feature so these devices often rely on capacitive touchscreens and software enhancements.

Apple’s mantra has long been minimalism and a stylus would hinder that. Both Apple and Android devices are happy to let third parties take care of the niche crowd that prefers to write onto their tablets rather than peck at the on-screen keyboard.

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Keyboards

If you don’t type much on your tablet or you are one of the few who has mastered touch typing on the screen, attaching a physical keyboard may not be necessary. But, for many there is still a real sense of dependency on bouncy keys and a mouse pad. I personally prefer handwritten input on my tablet, and more recently SWYPE, but there are many users who either type very fast or prefer the feel of a physical keyboard for their inputting. So far software keyboards are becoming more efficient but I can comfortably suggest that convertible-styled tablets with full QWERTY keyboards will remain available for some time to come.

The other option is pairing a keyboard via Bluetooth. Even iPad and most Android devices support Bluetooth, and yet this often translates to limited models of keyboards you can pair with companies like Microsoft and its Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 making an impact and Logitech’s DiNovo Mini deserving special mention.

Finger Motions

And of course there are your fingers. The best thing Apple did for the tablet PC market was show developers how to make using a slate fun again. Tiny menus, uncomfortable stylus motions and needless gestures were gone in favor of simple, two fingered taps, swipes, pinches, and slides.

It doesn’t work for everything and for sure it required a high level of responsiveness from the screen that capacitive technology only recently made possible, but now that it is here, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to go back. If I had to list my favourite of the Apple innovations at this stage it’s the little hovering magnifying glass that comes up when selecting text with my finger. PURE GENIUS! Get rid of my iPad and give me that on a Windows tablet and we’re leaps closer to geek heaven!

And even without hardware, software advances continue to make the touch interface faster and more versatile. Take the input of text on a touch screen with your finger. It is often slow and riddled with mistakes. Misspellings, autocorrect issues, and fat fingers are all problems that make standard input, even on a digital QWERTY keyboard complicated – let alone a touchscreen.

So when I look to the future what am I excited about? It’s software like SWYPE which is designed to help limit the number of problems people have with touch screen text input. The algorithm works to predict several possible word combinations in multiple potential languages, allowing you to quickly and easily swipe your finger across the keyboard and generate words without hunting and pecking. Instead of the predictive technology that attempts to guess what you are saying, SWYPE takes the first letter you hit with your finger or stylus and the path you trace across the screen and determines which word you are typing. We’ve seen SWYPE effectively used on the Samsung Galaxy S (phone) but on a Windows 7 tablet in particular, SWYPE is a fantastic addition because it provides an intuitive, intelligent digital keyboard that is generally very accurate at picking out your next word. Watch the video by Stephen Fenech (TechGuide.com.au) and tell me that SWYPE on a 10” Windows tablet doesn’t put a smile on your face. Currently available only in a limited BETA it still gives a good taste of things to come.

It will be interesting to see whether developers can continue bridging the gaps between intuitive touch interfaces and the power applications that consumers need to get work done. Integrating other input devices is effective for now, but many users (myself included) are waiting for the day when everything we do on a PC workstation can be done on a tablet without degrading the experience. It’s not to say we will never again use a desktop computer, but the option to take anything on the road with you is part of why the last 14 months of tablet development has been so exciting – we are getting closer with each passing week and every new app release.

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What I want to hear is – how the hell are you using your tablets? And what is your preferred input? Or are you, like many, watching some videos, punching some cats, making some birds angry and nothing else!  Personally I need more out of life and that’s what keeps me passionate about tablets! As iPad 2 is but a handful of days away I wonder if there has been a development in capturing text or has Apple decided the on-screen keyboard is enough?

Comments

  1. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

    @Guest: Not entirely true. I have agreed my whole geek life but there are clever alternatives. It’s a massive “plus” to have handwritten input, and my primary devices all support this, but undisputed winner is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Global – amongst politicians – there is a case for banning handwriting for exams. The reason is that people now think faster via a keyboard than they do in ink. I don’t know if I subscribe totally but there is a lot to be said when you ask someone to write out a letter, or type one out. Do the comparisons.

    • Distofanatic says

      Oh, wow! I cannot think of a WORSE type of person to have any sort of influence over educational issues than a politician! Seriously…

      On another topic, the “genius” magnifier would not be as necessary by far for most of Apple would pull their head out and have arrow keys on the keyboard for easy navigation in text, etc. What a pain without … Oh, and how about a decent predictive text upgrade to make up fo the inferior capacitive touch keyboard thing? Sure would make life easier for many IMHO.

      Will look you up next time over. DC says you Sydney folks don’t like to “slum it” over toward Melbourne ;-)

      • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

        LOL Distofanatic! Our winters demand long sleeve t-shirts, and if the surf is good Sydney siders have been known not to go to work! :-) It’s “hard” here mate! Come if you dare. LOL!

        PS. Apple won’t dare add innovation to the keyboard…it’s good enough for people to type their credit card details with…what more is needed? LOL

  2. Lorie Ghamy says

    I think apps like Swype are for a niche market…

    Most people are use to visualize Qwerty or Azerty keyboard and are typing with no finger rules….

    The learning curve for Swype will be ipso facto a brake for a wide market… Maybe simple but not perceived like easy to use…

    On my iPad jailbreaked, with an external keyboard, i can use a bluetooth mouse…

    And i own a Samsung stylus for capacitive screen for handwriting note in Noteshelf, Noterize…. and WritePad, able like in Windows to transform writing notes in typo text… Also for drawing with ArtRage…

  3. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

    @Lorie: great comment mate. I love the description of how you work. We’re all different and I’m happy when I hear a positive story of someone that found their best way. For me I don’t jailbreak (other than for fun), and I don’t like capacitive screens for writing. But I do work with SWYPE on my smaller tablet (secondary device) and digitizer for handwriting on my primary. ArtRageis fun, and I like InkSeine, OneNote and Evernote – all differently. The point is to enjoy how you do things and let apps increase your productivity. The rest is easy. :-)

  4. orinoco says

    I’ve used tablet PCs in one form or the other since the early Win CE days. My primary (and most needed) mode of interaction is the ability to ink (take notes during meetings, red-ink documents, preparing lecture notes). My biggest gripe about Tablet PCs over the years was weight/portability and battery life. Like most, I consider that the TC1XXX from Compaq/HP came close to address all of my issues, and I think had they continued with that line, it would have become what I yearn for today.

    I got an iPad shortly after it came out, and have really come to like it. It is portable, and has great battery life. The inking experience can be improved both from the apps and from the hardware, but it ain’t bad. Tweak up the iPad on hardware (digitizer), or bring back the TC with longer battery life and touch, and I can tell you how I get it on!

  5. GoodThings2Life says

    I really enjoy Swype on my EVO, certainly more than using a small keyboard (physical or onscreen). As a Windows Tablet PC user, I am also very proficient at handwriting in OneNote and the TIP, and have spent hours training my tablet to recognize every quirk in my writing style. They are certainly preferred when I am on a tablet-style device.

    However, as a keyboard junkie that knows every single Windows/Office shortcut key there is to know, I have tons of shortcuts that eliminate my need for a mouse or smudging up my screen, so I just naturally prefer a full-size keyboard whenever I can be stationary.

  6. griz8791 says

    “I personally prefer handwritten input on my tablet, and more recently SWYPE . . . ”

    Is there really a SWYPE-like interface for the Tablet PC operating system, or am I misreading this? I have an old-style active digitizer (no touch).

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

      @griz8791: If you watch the video you’ll see that there is a BETA. But I think SWYPE have a Windows solution well and truly on the roadmap.

  7. Carlos says

    I’m also a tablet user for some time, and now enjoying iOS and android. And keeping on the subjet on how we use them, I would like to have some comments from all of you about “where do we use our tablets” and issues thet we ehpuld consider.

    For instance, I usually check my mail and the news in the morning at my bed, even before I get up and I find myself with my elbows on my bed and my hands holding the tablet in front of my face, with my head reclined on a pillow and the neck in an ackward position. Similar situation when I am reading an ebook on the couch.

    In different times of the day when I’m not at my desk or in a table, with this ackward positions. How about ergonomics on tablets? Should we have similar problems like the carpa tunnel, with the use of this “not so new form factor and the input methods”?

    Another example, I wrote thies comment from my bed, and my right hand falled sleep writting and holding the tablet :s

    I think we all can give tips and develop some ergonomic technics for a better use of this devices. We can even create new acceories for this growing market. I also think is a good subject for a complete article.

    Carlos

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilPC says

      Hi Carlos, thanks for so eloquently describing your usage. I think the topic you’re suggesting is a good one. I’ll get something posted soon.

  8. Willem Evenhuis says

    my only comparison is to the lenovo x60t that I posess. Handwriting is a superior functionality on this machine. It is seriously something I miss in the current tablet profiles. N-trig has their capactative inking techinology potential, but so far I’ve only seen it on one or two tablet devices between ces an mwc 2011. A bit disappointing in my view as the multitouch has been hyped too much in disfavour of the digital inking input. The current tablet package is quite alright though. Bur in my experience a tablet isn’t complete withtout inking and ink-to-touch recognition. I have a sloppy doctor’s handwriting style, the ink to text recognition is a great tool to make my texts more readable. handwriting on a tablet is more intuitive and ergnomic than typing on a virtual keyboard. I still prefer a physical keyboard for the large documents. The power and memory is there, so I do not understand why handwriting recognition can not be part of it. We all still write and jot things down daily, but odly enough on a piece of paper. Why not on a tablet. Innovations is inking software could also use an upgrade. A few good options were available over the last 5 years, but I think its time to make the inking experience more userfriendly and more intuitive. Also a standard should be developed for an inking filetype as this could be more promising to sharing documents without the need of an extra third party software.

    I get very disappointed when I see a 2011 youtube video of inking capabilities. The demonstrotors do some nonchalantly useless doodling, not showing what the full potential of inking can be. No wonder inking hasn’t caught on. I think better instructions should be given to show proper inking on a tablet, e.g. writing a piece of text, doint a sketch or drawing, showing the pressuresensitivity and inking style capabilities of the hardware and software, and if available, some serious ink-to-text recogntion. I’ve see zero demoes of what windows 7 can do on a tablet with this. No demo means no known functionality to the general public. Very sad.

    Well, I can go on an on, but I will leave it at this for now.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilPC says

      HI Willem. Thank you for your comment. Ironically myself, and many several authors on GBM have spent years talking about Inking on a Tablet. I totally agree that on an active digitizer Tablet there is nothing better. I’ll see if I get some demos up soon. Good idea. :-)

  9. Dave_in_MI says

    First off, I’m not sure I wanna know how people are “getting it on” with their tablets. lol

    Second, I’m still new to the genre, so my next tablet will be my first. I will say two things about input, though. One, as a graphic artist, I need the pressure sensitive pen. Digital calligraphy, logos, artwork for websites — none of this is fingerpainting territory. Second, as a writer who types very fast, I need a keyboard. I’m keeping my eye on a couple convertibles, but a slate with an optional keyboard would be nice.

    So far, four Win7 slates have got my attention: Asus Eee Slate EP121 ($1100), Lenovo IdeaPad Slate ($500?), HP Slate 500 ($800), Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 ($800). All have pen & touch digitizers. Supposedly, the Lenovo will offer an optional keyboard docking station (interesting). The Asus includes a bluetooth keyboard with the initial buy. Not sure on the other two. The Asus, with it’s dual-core i5 CPU and Wacom pen, are on top of my list right now, but that price needs to come down a little. Fortunately, I’m not in a rush.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilPC says

      Hi Dave_in_MI: Welcome to my world mate. I really hope you find the device you’re looking for. From what you’re saying I don’t think it will be in one of the new “cheapies” but perhaps look at the convertible tablets from Lenovo, Fujitsu (I love) oe even Dell. While a little more expensive I believe these are still the best tablets for inputting handwritten notes, multitasking and getting to know the form factor. If I were in your position I’d seriously look at a good quality secondhand one, i.e. given the technology has progressed so well a convertible (with activite digitizer) of only a year ago, will be the same price as a useless new tablet with half the features.

  10. Yogh says

    I started this reply with a bit of a rant against QWERTY and how SWYPE is just a workaround for it’s problems rather than a fix like Dvorak. However, it occurs to me that the combination of on-screen keyboards and predictive systems may have brought us back to a problem like that of typewriters that gave birth to QWERTY. Typewriters had to prevent keys binding up, but now we have to worry about our predictive algorithms being able to correct us mistyping on one of the keys surrounding the intended one. Does having the more common letters separated on the QWERTY keyboard help this? Would a Dvorak keyboard, that has all the most common letters on the home row decrease the quality of results from predictive algorithms?

    The form factor of the tablet gives us so many options to re-explore textual input. The Dvorak keyboard layout was designed to minimise finger movement on the keyboard thereby increasing speed and decreasing effort. That’s good if we want to stick to a keyboard. SWYPE is designed to improve QWERTY. It might improve Dvorak, it might not; it uses the continuous motion of a single point of contact so the optimisation of the Dvorak keyboard for ten points of contact could be wasted or even hinder the efficacy of SWYPE. The paradigm of SWYPE, however, does not require a conventional keyboard. Any layout that allows a continuous line of contact touching all the letters in a word will work and I suspect a much more efficient layout could be found than the conventional keyboard.

    Chorded keyboards are another option. Most of the capacitive tablets available allow multiple points of contact which makes chords an option. http://gkos.com/ is available for Android and iPhone. The only reason chorded keyboards aren’t more common currently is because of a general fear of change. Learning a chorded keyboard is no harder than learning a normal keyboard, but most people view the task with the same trepidation as learning a foreign language. No manufacturer is going to produce a consumer laptop with a chorded keyboard or even Dvorak, but on-screen keyboards give us the opportunity to start changing without fear. Tablet makers should be embracing the opportunity to improve the user experience as opposed to their hidebound adherence to a keyboard layout that’s almost 140 years old!

    Of course, there are methods of textual input that don’t involve any sort of keyboard. As well as handwriting recognition there are innovative ways out there, for example http://www.the8pen.com/. I think that probably offers more benefits to phones, where the on-screen keyboard is too small, but it could probably still offer benefits to tablets.

    I don’t know what my preferred method of input is, but I know I’d like to choose from a larger selection.

  11. Anonymous says

    I mostly use my Gateway E-295C in laptop mode, mainly due to the sheer weight and bulk. Not very comfortable to use in slate mode. Also, I can touch-type, but that takes a physical keyboard.

    But when I need the pen, I NEED it. Ever tried taking math notes without a pen? Not fun. Furthermore, I really don’t like working with paper-it feels kludgy to work with.

    Also, as funny as this may sound, I sometimes do have the need for a traditional mouse. My two mice of choice happen to be a Logitech G500 and an older G5v1. Yes, that’s right-they’re generally used for gaming. FPS and RTS players wouldn’t want it any other way.

    The one thing I can’t do is use my fingers, because the E-295C doesn’t have a dual digitizer setup. This makes some tasks inconvenient, but pen input is the priority for my use case anyway.

    I think the neat thing about Tablet PCs is that they don’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) force you to use an input method that may not be ideal for the given situation. You have all these tools to choose from to get it done in the easiest and most efficient manner, I suppose.

  12. will says

  13. Yogh says

    Interesting. It looks like SnapKeys is a combination or word and sentence prediction that contextually changes the actions of the four buttons. The video gives me the impression that this is something they’re in the process of patenting so I’d guess they’ll try to sell it to OS makers as opposed to releasing anything more than a demo themselves.

  14. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

    Hi Yogh, I think you’re right. Ultimately any clever ISV will focus on that lucrative deal. Whether they get it will be something very different and often a reflection of how willing people are to adopt. I’m looking forward to trying SnapKeys. Keep you posted if I get a chance.

  15. Anonymous says

    Sounds like you had one of the first-generation models with a FinePoint digitizer. Mine’s second-gen, which isn’t really that different aside from being almost all black (save the silver hinge cover), having a more modern motherboard, and switching to a Wacom digitizer. (Just like the Compaq TC1000-HP TC1100 transition…)

    I’m actually feeling just a bit of envy upon reading the bit about you owning a T900. I’ve handled the older T5010 before, and it actually feels just right while not sacrificing too much screen size (which is also guaranteed to be BOE Hydis AFFS+ as opposed to the cheap TN panels Gateway used). Wouldn’t mind having one, but the cost is prohibitive, with no academic discounts in sight and eBay prices still staying high. (By comparison, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X200t/X201t line starts out about as expensive, but drops down to $1300 after academic discounts if buying new…) I’m also hoping that the T901 delivers on those NVIDIA Optimus promises to at least justify the high prices a little…I could use something more modern than the Mobility Radeon HD 2300 the Gateway is saddled with, which is now outclassed by the Intel GMA HD of all things.

    I’ve also handled dual-digitizer systems like the HP tm2. It’s quite nice to open up OneNote 2010 and scroll and zoom in/out of pages with ease, but then whip out the pen and write like it’s paper without having to tap an icon first. It gives a glimpse of what might have happened if Microsoft just went ahead and made a real Courier.

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