Even Ars Technica doesn’t know Windows tablets

I am disappointed with Ars Technica this morning. In fairness, that’s largely because I hold the site in such high regard. As a “long form” blog, they typically deliver information that is well-researched and informed. Their analysis on the HP Slate, however, misses on a few details.

That’s not to say the overall analysis of the prototype caught on video is unfair. Quite the contrary, the write-up hits several important points. Most of it is on target. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and their analysis on the Windows-specific features overlooks some of them. Running down the list.

“The enterprise targeting is also apparent; there’s a dedicated ctrl-alt-del button, to accommodate the Windows default of requiring the magic keystroke to log on in domain environments.”

Technically correct, but the dedicated button should not be taken as “enterprise targeting”. It has been, as I mentioned yesterday, a part of Microsoft’s Tablet PC spec from the beginning, regardless of market. As Josh Einstein explained, Ctrl-Alt-Del is also known as the “secure attention sequence” and “SAS is the only keystroke that cannot be trapped or simulated in Windows so when you press it, you know you’re looking at a bona fide login screen.” This is why it cannot be entered through an on-screen keyboard. It is an important security feature that was previously required on every Windows-based tablet, enterprise, consumer, or other. It does not indicate a target market.

“…it [the on-screen keyboard] doesn’t appear automatically when text entry is appropriate: a hardware button must be pressed to make the keyboard appear.”

While most of their critique of the on-screen keyboard is unfortunately true (the touch keyboard always shows up as floating on the Fujitsu T900, even after I switch it to docked; behaves perfectly when launched by pen), the hardware button is not required to launch the keyboard. In the video, you can see the on-screen keyboard launch button pop up when a text field is tapped, and the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) is floating on the left side the whole time. The keyboard button is a convenience (my first Tablet PC had one) but not a requirement.

The article also points to problems when scrolling. It’s true there are problems seen in the video. I also won’t argue that scrolling by touch in Windows 7 is perfect. What they don’t mention is the reviewer did not remove the screen overlay, a standard protector for shipping purposes. Like the plastic wrap on any newly shipped display, this overlay is not meant for use with the product. That’s an important caveat when judging the video.

Again, these are small details compared against the entirety of the article and should not detract from it, but small details can be important. My greater point is that if these can slip through on Ars Technica, what I consider one of the best tech blogs out there, then it can only be worse everywhere else outside our niche community (and it usually is). It’s disheartening given the years some of us in the mobile PC community have put into sharing and writing about Windows-based tablets, but it is what it is. All we can do now is keep at it and try to set the record straight as the mainstream becomes aware of Tablet PCs.

15 Comments

  1. dstrauss

    09/24/2010 at 10:46 am

    Sumocat – I generally agree with your analysis, but the keyboard button is a different issue. We’re not talking about invoking the Windows keyboard input panel, but a separate touch typing keyboard (at least that’s what I get from the Youtube video). Frankly, I think it’s a good design decision until Microsoft truly tweaks Win 7 for touch input (please, please, please do not abandon real inking Mr. Ballmer).

    Reply

    • Sumocat

      09/24/2010 at 11:32 am

      Won’t know for certain until we see it in person, but I went over that video several times and compared to my T900 before posting. I initially thought it was a different keyboard as well, but it pops out like the TIP and it shows the tab to switch to ink. If it’s different, it does everything else the same.

      Reply

    • ChrisRS

      09/25/2010 at 4:14 pm

      Since this is a Windows device, it should run any windows program (or app). The windows deveoment system is much more open and less restrictive than iOS and Android app, thus there can be numerous custom and non standard interfaces, especially with custom and legacy programs that are not often updated. When such programs are not touch aware, it is conveient to manually display the keyboard. The keyboard key is usefulk, not a fail.

      In my opinion there are a lot of iFans that are totally unaware of the reality of “productivity” software. Full sized productivity programs are not as easily updated and modified as small apps. There may not be a financial incentive to update some large or legacy programs. A Win 7 tablet allows these programs to be used as is, even if the interface is not optimal.

      Tablets do not need to be one size fits all. A lot of iFans to not understand this. I have not bought an iPad because it does not meet my needs. I am OK with other people buyoing and enjoying iPads. It would be nice if certain iFans could be civil and allow other products to be discussed in a procuctive manner.

      Reply

    • registrycleaner

      10/25/2010 at 3:14 pm

      Good points Sumocat, the only thing is that, as a capacitive touchscreen device, the plastic overlay shouldn’t be affecting the input.

      Reply

  2. Feralboy

    09/24/2010 at 10:57 am

    Yeah, the lack of inking for an enterprise device is startling and saddening. As everybody and their second cousin jump on the iPad bandwagon, I can’t understand why they don’t realize that adding ink (which is already there) allows them to “jump ahead”, rather than trail the iPad. Android, which hasn’t been rewritten for slates yet, won’t best the iPad until it is updated, so they’re all bound to be “also rans”. Win7 with a pen and a slightly more touch friendly interface could help them differentiate. And besides, you KNOW that Apple is working on ink/pen input. So when that happens, they’ll be even further behind.

    Reply

  3. grwisher

    09/24/2010 at 1:17 pm

    What is Microsoft going to do today, that which it has not been able to do for almost 10 years.

    Reply

  4. Syn

    09/24/2010 at 4:59 pm

    It has inking. He’s since put up a second video showing the pen. Unfortunately he doesn’t use it but it looks like a nice pen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1iZDEk4qBQ

    Reply

    • acerbic

      09/24/2010 at 6:06 pm

      Looks like it could be a Wacom pen. The very finished and complete looking retail packaging would be a good sign that it’ll be released soon, no?

      Reply

      • Syn

        09/24/2010 at 6:25 pm

        That’s what I was thinking. I know they did say it would be out in the fall so maybe we are close. I’ve been wanting a iPad form factor with Windows 7 and Wacom.

        I love my iPad and I’m equally frustrated with it. I find it irritating that I have to look for Apps and work a rounds for simple things, like saving a file. I’ll take Windows 7 quirkiness with touch anyday; though in truth, touch is fine on Windows 7.

        The Microsoft touch pack is amazingly smooth and touch friendly. It only shows that the software that runs on Windows needs to be built for touch. I’m curious if ie9 has been built for touch.

        Reply

      • Nameless

        09/26/2010 at 1:54 pm

        That’s the N-Trig Digital Pencil. Battery-powered, unlike the pens used on the Dell Latitude XT(2) and HP tx2, but still a pressure-sensitive EMR pen.

        It might also work on the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s.

        Reply

  5. Benz145

    09/25/2010 at 8:46 am

    Good points Sumocat, the only thing is that, as a capacitive touchscreen device, the plastic overlay shouldn’t be affecting the input. The video showed pretty clearly that the screen detected all input just fine.

    What was most curious to me was that pen, and I’m surprised no one is talking about it. Could the HP slate have a dual capacitive/active digitizer display? That would certainly put it up a few notches for me because it’d become infinitely more useful with written input. Without this, the HP slate is a device that is destined to fail.

    Reply

    • Sumocat

      09/25/2010 at 9:05 am

      Logically a plastic overlay shouldn’t matter, but in practice, I’ve found that they detract from responsiveness of capacitive screens. It’s subtle but noticeable.

      You’re a few posts behind on the pen. Revealed in his next video. Definitely N-trig DuoSense dual digitizer. Possibly the battery-powered pen.

      Reply

      • ChrisRS

        09/25/2010 at 2:10 pm

        Apparently the plastic overlay is the shipping protector, not a screen protector intended for permanent use. It probably behaves differently and may be more of an interference.

        Reply

  6. dstrauss

    09/27/2010 at 6:51 am

    Having used an iPad now for three months, I have to echo some of the frustrations noted here, on both sides of the ball. I truly like the size and battery life, but it does take a lot of tweeking and work-arounds in a Microsoft enterprise environment. Surfing, reading books/PDF’s, and general navigation are so good on the iOS interface – BUT – nothing compares to inking in OneNote, and truly viewing/editing Word and Excel documents in MS Office.

    Please HP – just give us 4 hours on the battery and an active digitizer pen, and you will own teh enterprise space. You’ve got to get there before iPad’s own it by default!

    Reply

  7. sahn

    09/27/2010 at 12:41 pm

    Hmm.
    Been using tablet pc’s for a decade now.
    They never fulfilled their potential for me because i could never truly replace my pen and paper, and having to carry my charger around with me made things friggin irritating. I bought an iPad and sadly it could have been so much more. I never thought id say this of apple but they underestimated themselves. The main problem with the ipad or what i forsee for any tablet that tries to be a phone and a computer is that when its crunch time youll go back to your laptop anyway, and so slowly, and sadly they become entertainment and fun devices, not productive really. not a real man’s machine if you know what i mean.
    Anyway, all though it cost me quite a lot more than most of the stuff you review, ive fallen in love with the toughbook c1.
    pannys handwriting recognition is pretty neat, for my handwriting atleast. the thing is built to stop bullets. Its 3.5 lbs. has a strap that makes it so comfortable to walk around with. Has every connectivity option imaginable, Dual hot swappable battery bays, each battery gives you 5 hrs so you can get 20 with 4. 2 in the laptop, 2 for the road. The digitizer pen is just as good as my wacom but for the lack of the eraser :)
    and the low failure rate on toughbooks is legendary.
    i miss the ipad keyboard sometimes, and i wish i find better on screen options for win7 in the near future. i’m starting to like fitaly quite a bit. so lets see how that goes. im perfectly fine with handwritten input at the moment. but theres times where id prefer an onscreen. and thats probably the only grouse i have at the moment.
    Anyone looking at tablets to be deployed in the enterprise space should definitely consider it.

    It is expensive though hmm
    but for me it was worth it.

    Reply

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