A Conversation with a Reader about Tablet PCs and Tablets: Part 2

This post continues a conversation I’ve been having via email with a GBM Reader. That reader has given me permission to post this conversation but wishes to remain anonymous. You can find Part 1 of this series here.

Warner,

Thanks for the lengthy response, but let me say that there is nothing surprising in it. I’ve read those complaints and your thoughts over the last year or so ago, and it seems like you’re stuck on the same old theme. I’m not saying that your take on the business side of things isn’t accurate but I’m looking at this from a the point of view of a user who thinks Tablet PCs can serve what I do best.

If you have the time, here are three points I’d like to see you address on that front.

1. Mobility. Tablet PCs offer the best solution for being mobile. I can get full computing power no matter where I am in my office or on the road. iPad and Android Tablets don’t give you that same range. So much of what you see is geared towards consumption, but I’m one who needs to get work done, and that leads to my next point.

2. Inking. I know you’ve been very fair in looking at different Inking solutions on the iPad, but I think you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. There’s no way (and you so say this) that it can compete especially in my situation.

3. I have to admit that I haven’t tried an iPad so I haven’t tried any Apps. Do you honestly think that these Apps can offer the same full range of functionality that we get out of Office? I can’t see that happening.

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Looking forward to your reply.

My Response

Thanks for continuing the conversation. Before I get started on responding to the three points you raise you can more specifically define a couple of things you mention?

1. What is mobile for you? Are you a corridor worker in an office? On the road working out of hotels, your car, etc? Give me some indication of what that means for you.

2. Define Inking in your usage scenario. What applications do you use on a Tablet PC and for what? Is it note taking? Editing documents? I’m even making assumptions that I can’t rely on by using those two examples. Do you leave your documents in Ink or use handwriting recognition?

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can if you’ll be kind enough to expand further.

Reader Response

Warner,

No problem. Here are the responses you asked for.

1. Mobile in my situation is a combination of several things. I am a corridor worker. I do take many notes moving about our facility. I also travel a good deal and do a lot of work from our offices in other locations as well as hotels. I use a VPN for a good amount of that work.

2. I primarily use OneNote, PDF Annotator, and Microsoft Word for my Inking chores. Occasionally I use Mind Manager for brainstorming sessions. Inking for me means taking notes in OneNote and marking up documents I am asked to review about 75% of the time. Another 15% is me responding (in Ink) to emails. OneNote is my main Application and everything goes into that Application. I leave my notes in Ink there primarily, although there is an occasion where I use the handwriting recognition when I need to send information to others that I know can’t read my handwriting.

Looking forward to what you have to say.

My Response

Thanks for sending that along it does help guide the discussion. From what I can surmise you are a Tablet PC user in a very traditional sense. That’s great and that’s why there are still Tablet PCs out there for folks like you. Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not down on the form factor or its potential uses. I’m just reacting to how I see the market evolving. As to your three points:

1. To be perfectly honest, with the exception of some of the 5 and 7 inch Tablets I wouldn’t define any of them as mobile. I would call them portable. When it comes to form factor mobile these days is really more about what you can do with a smart phone than a Tablet. Sure you can carry a Tablet PC or an iPad or any other Tablet around and it certainly beats lugging a laptop around (in most cases.)  But in the case of Tablet PCs, what we all defined as mobile years ago isn’t the same anymore. In my case, I can often do 80% of what I need to do on a smart phone. In your case, I can see where that might not be true.

About those 5 and 7 inch form factors. They may indeed be easier to carry around. But I think the jury is still out as to whether or not they are going to reach any sort of mass adoption. I find it telling that the next wave of Honeycomb Tablets are going to mostly have 10 inch screens or thereabouts and that speaks volumes about how manufacturers are seeing these devices.

Some have said that these new Tablets devices are more suited for the couch or the living room than anywhere else, and the consumption driven forces certainly make it seem like that is a prediction that is currently accurate. I have to admit I have some anxiety about a market that depends on content consumption as much as this one does.

In my case, I don’t take my iPad everywhere. I do use it for note taking in meetings, making presentations, and some light writing (with a keyboard). But more often than not it is a relaxation device with the above exceptions noted. I was always a convertible Tablet PC user because when I needed to get work done I used the device as a laptop. When I need to crunch out work today I rely on a laptop as well. Having both a laptop and an iPad may seem to be redundant for an old school Tablet PC user, but as I’ve said, I’m finding different uses for the different devices that justify how I’m currently working.

Another key to mobility for me is battery life. The iPad has unquestionably set the bar here. I remember figuring the cost of extended battery options into the purchase price of a Tablet PC whenever I bought one. While I could ration my usage and get through what I used a Tablet PC for, I find the freedom of using an iPad without ever having to think about battery life to be not only a joy, but ultimately well, freeing. Even with the advances (that still continue) in battery life on Windows machines I never felt that freedom.

2. Again, you fall into a classic Tablet PC user mode here by the description of the Apps you employ. I can’t and will not argue with you that Inking on a Tablet PC beats anything that is available with the current crop of Tablets. I was impressed with the HTC Flyer in giving it a brief tryout, but not enough to pick it up and use it on a regular basis. My Inking needs have always been very specific and while I miss some of the smoothness and some of the functionality of a full Tablet PC, I find that my Inking needs can be handled with the iPad and a few Apps that speak to those needs. They include Penultimate, iAnnotate PDF, and Sign-N-Send. Evernote comes into play because I do move my Penultimate files to Evernote via Email. It’s not a straight shot nor is it an elegant solution but it works. I find it intriguing that Evernote, which has become extremely popular on multiple platforms first came out with an integrated solution that allowed for Inking on the Anrdroid platform. (The HTC Flyer) I hope that means we’ll see more development from Evernote here, but I think the lack of appropriate digitizers is holding them back as on the Flyer. It does take both a hardware and software solution.

Keep in mind that in the development of Inking within Microsoft, that the Office team had to be dragged kicking and screaming to integrate Inking into those Apps. It always felt added on and not core. I think that is very, very telling. OneNote is obviously an exception to that, but it was crippled from a marketing perspective. I don’t think Microsoft really wanted it associated with Tablet PCs in a broad sense, as they had already started to shift focus once OneNote became the power horse it is. Microsoft became afraid of the Tablet PC and I think they were afraid of OneNote being called a Tablet PC App. Granted you can use OneNote without a Tablet PC and it can be a very powerful solution without one, but Microsoft had the Killer App, and failed to capitalize on it.

Maybe I am trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Honestly, I feel no differently as I continue to look for solutions that allow me to use an iPad for my Inking needs than I did when I was working with some of the early Tablet PCs. They all had their quirks and compromises were a part of the game in the early days. I’m hoping that we’ll see more development here that make the square edges of the pegs a little rounder in the future.

3. Do I think that some of the Apps for the iPad can be used instead of the traditional Office Apps? Depending on your needs, yes. More importantly though, I think the paradigm shift(s) we’re going through have as much to do with what we use computing devices for as it does how we use them. I can remember (both fondly and not so fondly) the heavy load of Applications I felt I needed to install on a new device in order to accomplish my work. The reality was I only touched a small percentage of the capability that those Apps gave me at any given time. The Apps I use on an iPad certainly can’t give me all the functionality of those large Apps I used to feel were necessary. But the experience has forced me to look at what I really need to accomplish and with what tools. My work output and requirements seem to keep expanding exponentially regardless of the platforms I’m using. I don’t feel like I’m not getting things accomplished the way I need to. But then again, remember that I was a heavy convertible Tablet PC user who relied quite a bit on that form factor.

I don’t know where Apple’s iCloud effort will take things. It has the potential for some real shifts. It may fail miserably or be a stunning success or anywhere in between. But the one thing it will do is continue to make us look at how we are working and with what tools.

I’m going to mention another point here that you didn’t bring up. And that’s enjoyment. For me any task is more enjoyable and thus I’m more productive, if the tools I’m using are fun to use. That was true with a Tablet PC and thus I became an instant convert and evangelist of the platform. After my initial hesitations with the iPad I found that same sense of enjoyment for the work I do with it. I can’t quantify that experience but I can tell you that in my decision tree the enjoyment factor is big factor. It’s one reason I’ve been hesitant to pick up an Android Tablet so far. While I’m sure I would enjoy geeking out with an Android Tablet, that’s an entirely different experience than the enjoyment factor of using the device as a tool to get things accomplished.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

 

To be continued.

  

Comments

  1. cu says

    This discussion is interesting, although the questions of form and function get confused in it.

    For example, there is nothing surprising at all about having an ipad and a laptop.  They are two complementary devices.  The Tablet PC was a good compromise, and for some, it probably remains the best compromise although I would like to see more developments like the old Compaq 1000 and the new transformer, resulting in a lighter form-factor.
    As to the 7″ v 10″ difference, you’re right that current manufacturers are leaning to 10″.  However, that appears to be a result of Honeycomb not playing well in the 7″ sandbox — too much going on in the screen, as James Kendrick put it in a different context.

    Doing a lot of reading on a smart-phone is difficult at best (unless you’re young or have better glasses than I do).  At 7″, the letters can be large enough to be easily read without making the number of words on the screen so small that there is no flow to the reading.  

    What is missing at the 7″ size is inking.  As you noted a few days ago, the only 7″ tablet really designed for it — the Flyer — has a clicky pen and lacks even the smoothness of the better Ipad applications.  Tablet PC’s are in another class.

    Hopefully, Windows 8 will allow use of Office on phones, tablets and PC’s, and a discussion of the form factors will not be as easily confused with discussion of the functions.

  2. Brett Gilbertson says

    Interesting discussion, thanks for sharing it warner. I have to say that for me this relates to why gbm has become less relevant to me over time. I am a business user in a similar sense to your correspondant, except that i am a true road warrior. I built a great new office at home, and i just realised that i haven’t spent a day in it for months!

    As a new MS Tablet MVP and user for 8 years I am constantly horrified at the way microsoft screw up their tablet efforts. However it continues to be the only platform that offers me the level of productivity i require.

    The iPad always leaves me feeling disappointed. For example, i read the raving about garage band on ios 4, so i got excited and dusted off the ipad, downloaded the gajigabytes of upgrades to ios4 and bought garageband only to realize that it was a toy. A bit of fun, but as usual lacking some critical functionality to make it a serious tool. That sums it up for me so far, although i believe that it will get better…

    In my experience the killer apps that people in business need to go mobile (and paperless) are the basics like onenote, excel, word and outlook (BlueBeam for good measure)… a Tablet PC with an active digitized (touch optional) gives you that. As for the 10% functionality argument i have found that it is popular but not true. Even if it was, the 10% that you use is usually not the 10% available in pages, numbers and keynote.

    I wish that i had more time to write about how businesses are using Tablet PCs, but thanks to iPads the demand for Tablet PCs has been completely overwhelming over the last year…

    • Stuart says

      Hi Brett,

      I think it would be interesting to use Onenote as a skin (for the os, office, or even just outlook).  It would has a great UI and  applying it this way might allow MS to leverage it’s powerful ink offering, potentially resulting in uniquely robust enterprise slate.

  3. Anonymous says

    A very interesting discussion. I was leaning towards the Flyer (and am still interested in reviewing the Puccini) but I purchased an iPad 2, use a boxwave and acase stylus with a combination of WritePad /Noteshelf /iAnnotate/Evernote/Smart Pad apps. I was able to easily write a 500 word essay in WritePad, email it to Evernote to include a picture / sound and then email full content to someone for review. 

    Its seems like advantage of Flyer is integration of some of these features (no handwriting recognition) but not the quality of these features as on the iPad 2.

    Looking forward to testing out one of the Tablet PCs. Brett, all, what is your recommendation of the Tablet PC to test?

  4. Anonymous says

    Brett,
    I think you’ve hit one point square in the center of the target regarding the current wave of Tablets, that includes the iPad. While there are some who do some remarkable creative work on these devices currently, for others I think we’re potentially looking at what some are calling a fad. I’m not in that fad camp, but I can see where some who have jumped on the Tablet (I’m speaking in general about the current wave here not one specific device) will become excited by them and what they can offer, but unless they find a hook with an App or two that they enjoy all the time that excitement could quickly fade. You can certainly make the argument that web browsing could be that hook, but in the end I think it takes more than that. Don’t get me wrong here, Tablets can offer a lot of possibilities, but they are really no different than any other computer form factor. There has to be a reason to keep using the damn things and for many that’s still email, photos, Facebook, etc…. the usual suspects.

    I don’t consider myself a normal user at all and can’t base any potential trends on how I use a Tablet. For me it is note taking, reading (consuming) and as a PIM. But that’s me.

  5. Dale Strauss says

    This is a great dialog – glad you shared it. Without a doubt, I fall in the category that wants an iPad 2 size and battery life device with full Tablert PC functionality…and I guess I will be waiting several more years for that jewel. In the meantime, the bigger issue is full fidelity between my Office docs on my Tablet PC and the same docs after being mangled in DocsToGo, QuickOffice, or Pages/Numbers. If any one of the big three “editor” programs on iOS or Android could maintain formatting and document comparison, they would sweep the field overnight. Then the iPad (or Flyer/Tab/Xoom/Touchpad) would rule the business as well as consumption markets.

    I keep hoping that is what HP really has up its sleeve – put all their hotshot programmers on a 100% compatible Office program for WebOS…but even then, I’d still want my Windows/iPad clone.

  6. GTaylor says

    Warner, you and GBM have given me great articles and respectful responses over the years, it has always been fun whether we were talking seriously about the tablet form or just geeking on about gadgets. But fairly recently, fun took over, and while you kept having fun I didn’t come here for fun as the main point. Do you see a comparison here?

    The computer, software, and telecommunications industry, need serious public pressure to remain responsive to the customer’s needs. The press, and in this niche that is you, is the instrument that focuses that pressure. With out that focus those businesses cannot help but become obsessed with their own needs rather than being in the honest business of supplying the solutions to other people’s needs- for an honest price.

    Has GBM become obsessed with fun and their own needs while neglecting the job of focusing the original niche coverage? I don’t know. Has the niche changed? It looks like it has. So what, that is your business and if your circulation has increased than good on ya. Is there a sense of loss by some of your readers that goes beyond a fanboy loyalty to an aging device concept? Hold on right there.

    The very specialized niche created by the slate form factor only started to form. The potential of a full computer to be hand carried all day, hold all of the programs, apps, files, and connectivity of the office or home computer and to be operable with only a finger or pen touch was so close that it could, possibly be built in 2011. Swappable fast charge battery packs might be too much a burden of worry for some, but not for others. Comparing a fully mature slate (Yes, slate. A detachable keyboard leaves it still a slate, a nondetachable keyboard and it is a laptop with inking.) with a smartphone is just bogus. The use is different, the risks are different, the power drain is different. Phones and portable computers can cooperate with one another, they can’t replace each other.

    So why did the niche change? How did the niche change? It was connectivity, I’m told. (No one will get the Allan Sherman reference.) If every thing can be done over the air than everything should be done over the air! After all how cool is that! Well after all it is your stuff that is out there. The point is that people using full fledged portable computers including tablets, with an eye toward responsible use of bandwidth and a healthy concern for security, would have developed a more ‘individual centric’ mobile computer and telecommunications market than we have now. Maybe a more stable market, maybe a more responsive one, possibly a more understandable market. But the very large players in this market see their own needs far more clearly than they do their customers need. Change and churn keep them on top of a very mean pile. And I think that they are having fun, and making good money.

    • Anonymous says

      GTaylor,

      I’m not sure I agree with you that fun took over as much as I think we, like everyone else, have been caught up in a whirlwind that is the ever changing landscape of mobile technology. It has always been every changing, but now it seems to change almost day by day in a pace that just can’t keep up. The sense of loss is felt the same by us as it is by some of our readers. But let’s be honest here, when we begin covering the niche that was Tablet PCs and mobility, we’d be talking about changes that were to occur six to 12 months out, and then covering them when they occurred. There was no cloud, there were no social media services, and while they may not impact Tablet PCs or Inking directly, they certainly have influenced the market around them to the point that, well, as I’ve said those original form factors are in decline. 

      Keep in mind here that much of what we see on the market today (as it was in times past) is all about making a buck more than it is making devices and software. And when the money starts flowing one way (the cloud, social services, etc….) and you’re making hardware and operating systems, well, things can change quickly. That’s what we’re in the middle of at the moment and it is maddening both from a pace perspective and trying to reach some sort of equilibrium.

      Did the niche change? I’d have to say yes, by and large. How did it change? Well, most folks gave up on Microsoft and Intel and the structures they had set in place after the Windows Vista debacle, and neither Microsoft or Intel could correct quickly enough. You’re right that “The potential of a full computer to be hand carried all day, hold all of
      the programs, apps, files, and connectivity of the office or home
      computer and to be operable with only a finger or pen touch was so close
      that it could, possibly be built in 2011.” But Microsoft gave up on that long before we ever heard about an iPad.

      While I agree that comparisons with fully mature slates or convertibles with smartphones might be a bit of a stretch, but I don’t agree that it is bogus. If I’m accomplishing some of the same work with a smaller and different form factor what’s really the difference? In my use case, being able to leave the house for a final rehearsal before opening night only carrying a smartphone that has my notes for the rehearsal stored in Evernote is not only freeing, but it sure beats having to lug a bag full of gear with me that I’d often forget to bring home following the after party. In fact, I relish not even carrying the iPad with me on those occasions.

      I do agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph, and quite honestly the fact that no one seems to be able to come to grips with what the promise of “always connected” really means in terms of cost or ubiquity is quite telling.

      Oh, and by the way, I do get the Allan Sherman reference. :)

  7. GTaylor says

    Warner, I have never found myself disagreeing with you, and I really
    don’t now.  I want to rely on the compatibility, interoperability, and
    inter-connectivity of my phone, tablet pc, and home computer so that
    like you I can rely on grabbing my phone and go when needs be.  Although, I don’t want to loose my computer-or its battery-with my phone.  I see the rolling surf of change in the various technology
    markets imperiling this level of functionality rather than fulfills it. Can you agree that corporate marketing is contributing to a rate of change that is so rapid that technology cannot mature?
    Maybe we disagree on the following:
     Mature technology has a specific meaning to me in this case.  It is similar to the meaning used in manned spaceflight.  Mature means it is safe, reliable, update-able, cost effective, and it  meets the needs.  From my point of view the overheated rate of change  that currently exists precludes all of the above.
     Safe? Current and ongoing hacks of sensitive information from organizations that should have the best security shows that the technology is not safe on that one point alone; don’t get me started about young single and married people who put way too much info in the cloud and have it released  due to complicated default  privacy settings.
     Reliable? How can any infrastructure be reliable when each and every aspect of it has a one year life?
     Updatable ? Again the scope and rate of charge precludes small businesses from updating  many aspects of current technology. Here I aw talking not about updating firmware or changing to newer devices.  I am referring to perfectly good software, hardware, and services that could be updated, has already had the learning curve investment paid, and yet is junked due to whole earthquake changes in the related industries.  Every advance in technology should not require an extra $100 a month and lower the expectation of privacy at the same time.
     Cost effective? There is not enough space here to talk about the lack of cost effectiveness in the tech world.
     Supplies the needs?  Most people I know still have trouble deciding when a text, email or call is the best way to communicate. So many daily personal and business needs could be met if only the technology were around as long as people’s habits.  This is one  need that the Apple interfaces meet well. The cost is that you have to acknowledge that it is Apple’s property not yours.  But it is easy to use it to meet your needs.
    The main reason I follow the articles and discussions at Gotta Be Mobile is because I think that the message here is worth reading because it enlightens the landscape in which it resides, not because it follows trends. If the landscape is being changed unscrupulously then that needs to be illuminated. If people are having trouble finding their way around because of difficult to use hardware, software, or services, then that needs light as well. If enough people read serious articles and discussions then maybe they will get read by someone (plural) who can make a difference.
    That is what I hope Gotta Be Mobile can do. That is what I hope your readers want.

    • Anonymous says

      GTaylor,

      All good points and I don’t disagree one bit. The only thing I would expand upon is that given the mobile tech world we live in right now it isn’t just “Apple’s property not yours” it is Google’s, the carrier’s, yes Microsoft’s, the media companies, etc….. as well. But in reality that’s been the case for quite some time.

      • Bethnglenn says

        Thank you Warner for this topic, for your kind and respectful responses, and for letting me say my piece. I do not hope to be right, I hope to be able to clearly examine the situation around me and to participate in conversation in which others do the same.
        GTaylor

  8. AzaelB says

    Thanks to Warner and his respondent.  I am a college professor. I used for nearly 7 years a regular laptop (Toshiba Satellite) until the screen just died. The decision was to get another laptop, a Tablet PC. TPC was my choice not only for my work but also to test/prove how good was a TPC for teaching and learning. I got a HP Tx2 on sale, my academic Office and OpenOffice (as a legacy venue for my old laptop files). I used a nice piece of freeware from UWashington called Classroom Presenter. I was bought with the TPC.  No contest here. My students went to get TPCs too. Some had difficulty with the inking/handwriting. And they were right: I had a Toshiba Pocket PC and its handwriting recognition was superb (95% at worst). I wondered why the MS TPC developers took three steps back from the PPC handwriting recognition milestone? Anyway, after 18 months my TX2′s screen module started to fail (it needs to be warmed up to start normally otherwise the screen goes out of sync and brings back blue screens, so I carry a hair dryer or an USB handwarmer which I stick to the back of the screen. Once it is warm, it works fine in Tablet mode. (see my story at http://tabletsinscienceeducation.wordpress.com/) So I went out to get a not-so-expensive solution. I looked for tablets, including the iPad2, Android tablets and so on. The capacitive screen even with a conductive stylus was no match for the TPC. I tried an iPad2 with a capacitive stylus and Writepad. No match.  So I looked for a compromise: the Dell Inspiron Duo, a convertible screen-turning TPC with Win7. It was $550 with docking.  It has a capacitive screen but when I finally paired the Duo, with the Classroom Presenter and a DAGi stylus, I found the closest match to what I had before. The quality of writing, recognition were no 95% but at least decent, and my students do understand what I write and project on the classroom screen.  I do not have the $$ but I think the Lenovo ThinkPad with Win7 and Lenovo stylus could be that TPC that actually behave like a tablet and let you do the works with the portfolio keyboard. And the Android version may also win many adepts with Docs to Go, stylus and handwriting recognition. Another option would be the Fujitsu TPCs but they are a bit expensive for my budget (my family needs to eat to live too!)  For us the TPC should be continued and improved. And HP should behave better with TPC customers by replacing the TX2/TM2 for Elitebooks with at least a 50% discount.

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