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.


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.

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


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.