It’s done. Our forum members, led by CajunAzn, Steve Seto and moderator Sharon, have assembled the definitive list of issues with the N-Trig digitizer, particularly the one in the Dell Latitude XT, as part of what is being called the N-Trig Initiative.
The entire statement is posted below (most of it after the jump), and it can also be found on the forum along with commentary. Due to the forum switchover, several formatting quirks showed up in the list, which are still on the forum but hopefully I caught them all in the re-post below. Tremendous effort, guys. Hope to see a real response (unlike the false start last week).
02 January 2010 Rev 2
To the Management and Staff of N-trig:
We are tablet users. We are your customers. We have spent our money on your products.
And we are not happy.
In a previous Open Letter (December 2009) addressed to N-trig, a short list of recommendations were regarding N-Trig and it’s DuoSense digitizer on the XT, XT2 and TX2 tablets. This Open Letter has been reorganized and expanded to provide a precise and thorough cross section of our customer experiences and major concerns. In particular, it contains problem occurrence notes and constructive comments that have been carefully collected from the users at GottaBeMobile.
We realize that many issues in this letter are not solely the fault of N-trig. However, we feel N-trig is best positioned to initiate the solutions and guide its partners along this process. We hope this letter can help N-trig improve as a company in three major areas:
Section 1: Priority Issues
More than anything else, the community wants reliable operation. The items this portion must be resolved in order to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of usability. The community would like to see a firm and visible commitment to resolving every issue. We understand that some fixes may depend on your partners at Dell, HP and Microsoft. If this causes delays or an ability to fix a certain issue, we need to know!
Section 2: Requested Features
Beyond the issue of reliable operation, there is the matter of quality of experience. This section addresses items that are not essential, but would vastly enrich the user experience. Some items, such as expanding pen choices and providing a gesture customization interface, will require cooperation with your partners. The key point is that these features are things consumers will look for to differentiate N-trig above competitors like Wacom.
Section 3: Community Support
Finally, there is the simple issue of customer relations. It is unfortunate that we even have to point this out, but N-trig has acquired an extremely bad reputation of ignoring its user base. Even without the numerous quality issues, no company can grow without solid customer relations, especially in a market with highly reputable competitors like Wacom and Synaptics. The recent attempts by N-trig to open communication are appreciated, but more can be done to improve N-trig’s relation with the tablet community.
In summary, although only the first section of this letter has been labeled “priority,” we hope N-trig takes all three sections careful consideration. While addressing the major hardware issues, N-trig should begin making solid plans to improve its product feature set and community relations, as these are no less important to the long term success of the company. So without further ado, here is the official GottaBeMobile N-trig wishlist:
Section 1: Priority Issues
Screen Edge Pen Stutter
Pen cursor jumps 1-2 inches inward when hovering near the screen bezel. Single pen presses in this area are registered as multiple, successive taps.
This problem affects nearly every user in all situations. Input reset does not improve the stutter in the edges.
Impossible for user to perform precise pen work. In particular, buttons and scrollbars and other UI objects cannot be used reliably. Distracting cursor movement and accidental UI interaction damages productivity and workflow.
Palm Ink Vectoring
When inking, cursor will jump from the pen nib to the palm causing a long stroke to be drawn between both points.
Often occurs in the pauses between inking strokes when the user lifts the pen from the digitizer. This problem occurs more frequently when the palm is resting at the edges of the screen (which is usually the case).
Precise pen work is made extremely frustrating. Drawing and inking applications cannot be used with accuracy. Disruption of workflow and productivity to excessive erasing/undoing. Ergonomic strain on user as the palm must be held in an awkward position to prevent vectoring.
Erratic Pen Behavior
The pen input experiences severe tracking lag or jumpiness over the entire screen.
This problem may be related to the pen malfunctioning. Rooms with strong lighting greatly aggravate problem.
As above for “Screen Edge Pen Stutter”. In addition, inking becomes spotty and completely illegible. See screenshot at: http://www.gottabemobile.com/forum/u…-TrigIssue.jpg
The digitizer will detect false touches at various points on the screen.
This problem can occur randomly as single touches or bouts of random touches. This problem is also seen frequently when the screen is being manipulated, such as adjusting the screen tilt, swivel or pivot. Input reset doesn’t always solve the situation.
Makes touch unreliable and frustrating. Interferes with multitouch gestures recognition. Makes it impossible to perform continuous and precise finger tracking. This affects common tasks such as drawing long curves, making selection boxes and using scroll bars. Distracting cursor movement breaks user workflow. Accidental presses of UI objects can be can serious consequences for sensitive applications (i.e. any application without an undo function).
Touch input will randomly cease to function with no warning/error.
This problem occurs within the first 10 minutes to 1 hour after boot. Input reset does not solve the issue, but a reboot or wake from sleep does.
Extremely disruptive to user workflow. Many processes (eg. web browsing & downloading) cannot be conveniently stopped for a reboot or sleep/wake cycle. Leads to user confusion, as one may try to change the digitizer mode or play with the touch settings to no effect.
Touch Dead Zones
Some spots of the digitizer will not recognize touch.
This problem may occur when the tablet is not grounded either by touching the case or with an AC cord.
Similar to “Phantom Touch” issue. Interferes with multitouch gesture recognition and program interface interaction. Impossible to perform precise finger tracking.
Pressure Sensitivity Support
Certain industry-standard applications such as Photoshop can Painter cannot register pressure of the pen.
This problem appears to be related to the WinTab API not being able to communicate properly with the digitizer output.
Design workflow is severely hampered by need to manually adjust stroke width. Furthermore, artistic strokes with gradually varying thickness/opacity are not possible.
This is a point of extreme frustration on the part of artists and designers (a primary tablet market segment). See this article for an example of one user’s experience.
The digitizer is advertised as having 512 levels of pressure sensitivity but no mention is made of incompatibility with industry standard applications like Photoshop or Painter. Since many artists and designers buy tablets specifically for use with these applications, this becomes the near equivalent of false advertising.
The community would like to see an official statement from N-trig on the plan and timeline for resolution of this problem.
Digitizer Initialization Errors
At start-up, the digitizer and/or driver will fail to initialize with these error messages:
- “Can’t Connect to Driver”
- “N-trig Applet has Encountered a Problem and Must be Shut Down”
- “Digitizer Not Found”
These messages show up in the mid to late stages of startup after the desktop is shown. A reboot is the only way to solve the situation, but is not guaranteed, as the message may occur 2 or 3 times in a row.
Since the digitizer is connected and initialized through a USB interface, other system services related to USB (eg. iTunes) and/or other USB device drivers may interfere with the digitizer initialization.
In all these cases, the digitizer ceases to respond entirely.
This problem has been an issue for 2 years since the launch of the Latitude XT. The community feels it’s past time this problem is resolved once at for all. An in-depth re-examination of the digitizer start-up procedure is strongly advised.
Firmware/Driver Recovery Tool
Due to the extremely poor documentation and coupling of the drivers and firmware, many users have become stuck with improper or unwanted firmware that renders their digitizers inoperable or buggy.
The community would like to see a dedicated firmware recovery tool that sets digitizer back to a known and usable state. This is the bare minimum that must be done to assist users with driver/firmware installation issues.
The coupling of driver and firmware creates installation difficulties and confusion. It breaks the standard driver installation structure used by almost all other hardware vendors. The native windows driver rollback and/or system restore features are not usable, and if used, may leave the digitizer in an unusable state.
The community feels that N-trig must change its install packages to conform to the standard Windows driver installation and rollback structure. This means providing a single, robust firmware as a separate download that is capable of supporting all driver versions. All driver packages must be available as separate downloads and must be compatible with Windows driver rollback and system restore features.
The driver/firmware installation problems are also caused by extremely poor documentation. The driver install packages often fail with cryptic error messages, such as “Fatal Error” and “Operating system is in adequate for installation”. The install packages may also have undocumented dependencies, such as Visual C++. No guidance is given on how to diagnose or restore a digitizer to its proper state. There are no clear indications of incompatibility between driver/firmware versions and difference OS”s or different machines.
The community would like precise documentation on exactly what each installer does, any installer dependencies (such as Visual C++) and an indepth troubleshooting guide for all error messages. We would like a very clear procedure for rolling back drivers/firmware and a firmware/driver compatibility table that shows which combinations of drivers versions, windows versions, and digitizers versions (XT, XT2, TX2) are cross compatible and which combinations are toxic.
Section 2: Community Requests
The recent driver release removed the ability to set the digitizer to automatically switch between pen only and touch only, depending on the given input. Many users would like this feature to be available as an option, in addition to dual (touch + pen) mode.
The driver installer package inexplicably forces the user to undock before installing. This seemingly minor annoyance, creates a huge hassle when compared to the average driver installation, which may entail, at most, a single reboot without touching hardware.
For N-trig drivers, the user must first undock (which may not be readily possible, as many attached USB devices must be safely removed first). Then the user must move the power cable from the dock to the machine, install, reboot and then re-dock (and have all the peripheral devices re-initialize). This is an excessive amount of hassle for a single driver update and creates a negative usability impression.
Remove the undocking requirement so that docking station users can install your drivers seamlessly.
Wacom has long provided a pen configuration utility with all of its products which allows users to set function of each pen button and the pressure detection rate. Consumers have come to expect at least this minimum level of hardware control for their tablets.
This programmability allows for greatly enhanced productivity in many applications. For optimum usability, make the pen settings application sensitive, so the user can maintain a default profile for most applications and set custom profiles for specific ones.
Currently each digitizer comes with only one choice of pen. Users would like to the ability to select a pen that is ergonomically best suited to his/her hand and usage patterns. Specifically, consider making pens that have:
- Wider barrels
- A top eraser button
- Larger side buttons
- A selection of nibs (to mimic different surface media)
This customizability should not be an aftermarket-only solution. Work with your partners (Dell, HP, etc.) to allow users to select the right pen and nibs at the time of purchase.
Currently the community must find a compatible screen protector through painful trial and error. An official list of protectors that do not interfere with touch and pen should be provided.
To really set N-trig apart from the competition, develop official pen nibs and screen protectors that can be paired to best mimic different surface media (like pencil-on-paper). Graphic designers and any users who use ink as their main tablet input will be especially grateful for this feature.
Expanded Multitouch Gestures
Currently, the four finger touch capability of the DuoSense digitizer is severely under-utilized. Bringing out the full touch experience will only be possible by expanding the multitouch gesture set. At the minimum, incorporate the multitouch gestures available on the Mac touchpad. See the list at: http://www.danrodney.com/mac/multitouch.html.
If necessary, work with Microsoft to make the current windows touch framework gesture extensible with a third party app (similar to what SetPoint does for mouse input). This will also enable the added advantage of gesture programmability discussed below.
Multitouch Gesture Programmability
Along the lines of the ‘Pen Programmability’ topic, allowing user to customize the function of each Multitouch gesture would greatly increase productivity once the user becomes proficient with the gesture set.
Again, for optimum usability, make this feature application specific, so the user can set a default profile and create custom profiles per application. This would provide the customizability and robustness that would establish N-trig as the market leader in PC touch technology.
Improved Gesture Recognition
On Windows 7, the rotate gestures is prone to 2 common errors:
- Rotate gesture requires multiple attempt before being recognized
- Rotate gesture misrecognized as a pinch
On Vista and XP, the pan/pinch gestures are prone to 2 additional errors:
- Choppy panning and zooming
- Two finger panning misrecognized as a pinch and vice versa
If new multitouch gestures are added, it is very possible that they too could suffer from the same recognition accuracy and choppiness problems. When the touch experience isn’t smooth or requires many tries to succeed, the user will naturally revert to something more reliable like the pen or mouse.
There are several strategies we recommend to overcome this:
- Implement an algorithm to specifically compensate for common touch ‘mistakes’ that cause the misrecognition, like with current rotate gesture.
- Doing a subjective comparison of gesture accuracy and smoothness to the Macbook Pro touchpad (generally considered to have the best touch experience) and only release new drivers when the DuoSense can match it.
- Strive to make multitouch gestures accurate for first time users, but also consider user-specific learning to maximize accuracy.
Section 3: Community Support
Responsive Customer Support
Given that email is the only way to contact N-trig, one would expect its email replies to be fast and responsive. Instead, the quality and reliability of N-trig’s customer support is simply dismal. More often than not, people emails to N-trig are simply ignored. On the rare occasion that they are replied to, the answers are curt and not helpful. In short, the customer feels shut out.
This is probably the most damaging aspect to N-trig’s reputation – the appearance that the company simply does not care. If N-trig wants to improve its community reputation, the first thing that should be done is making sure every email is replied to quickly and thoroughly.
The Hands On bulletin board has been around for almost 2 years, but the ‘forum’ numbers less than 30 short posts, most of which are unanswered questions. It should be quite clear that no amount of useful discussion will ever be generated with the current setup. Also, the lack of a proper forum estranges the consumer and again, creates the impression that N-trig does not care.
The community would like to see a true forum with sections and threads to discuss different subject and where messages are not held for censorship before they are posted (a moderator could still monitor the boards for language). This would allow better tracking of issues and provide a customer support channel that could ease the burden of phone and email. As well, like Dell’s IdeaStorm page, this forum would allow useful ideas from the community to grow and be incorporated in future products.
Blog and Updates Page
Many users feel very distanced from N-trig as the website is very rarely updated and their are no indications given as to N-trig’s plans, release dates or even its overall design priorities. What are N-trig’s engineers currently working on? How does N-trig plan to compete with competitors like Wacom?
For better integration into the tablet community, N-trig needs to talk to tablet users and inform them on a regular basis about works in progress, like bug fixes. It would also provide valuable community feedback to help prioritize and guide work projects.
Currently there is no issue tracking system to help N-trig tabulate problems and help customers find solutions. Drawing from the phone, email and forum support channels, N-trig should maintain a solution database that tracks issues as they are reported and notes the frequency and situations which they occur, as well as solutions and workarounds to deal with them.
The community has put in the great effort of combing through the reported issues here at GottaBeMobile and organizing them into an issues list with occurrence notes. However, this burden should lie with N-trig, not the users, and we hope this list will provide a starting point for the solution base.
Telephone Contact Number
This should not need to be explained – consumers expect any company to have a telephone number. It just speaks to the basic professionalism and organization of a company. Furthermore, people prefer talking to a person over using email.
User Focus Groups
Community feels that the best way to restore consumer confidence in N-trig products is to employ extensive user-focused testing of specific usage scenarios. These ‘focus groups’ will quickly identify the usability problems that compound to make the DuoSense so unwieldy in its current state.
For example, one focus group might be tasked with simply using the pen all day to perform every task. Another may group may try to use only the touch. Major issues like ink vectoring and screen edge stutter and vectoring while inking will quickly become apparent to all of these users.
With the collected experience of these user groups, a common ‘usage scenario map’ can be drawn that would serve as testing checklist to evaluate all future driver releases.
For example, one item on this scenario map could be “Application scrollbars are easy to slide”. This use-case would isolate and test for any problems with pen jumpiness on touch insensitivity at the edges of the digitizer.
Furthermore, an overall subjective comparison rating can be performed against a device known to have smooth and reliable feedback. In ‘Gesture Recognition’ request, it was suggested that the MacBook touchpad could serve a frame of reference for gesture feedback. However, any appropriate device can be used: the Apple iPhone for touch, the Wacom Bamboo for pen, etc. The key point is find devices that are good at what they do and see if the DuoSense can match it within that usage context.
After internal testing of each major driver revision has been completed, consider offering pre-release betas to key tablet community members, like the people at Gottabemobile.com. This would allow that added level of refinement so that the final product is free from defects and provides an intuitive and reliable experience.
Multitouch Development Strategy
The community feels that N-trig should re-assess its strategy for promoting multitouch software development with its hardware. Reading through the comments at NUIGroup (http://nuigroup.com/forums/viewthread/1005/P15/) and one will find that the developers have found N-trig’s Multitouch SDK to be so limited that they have simply ignored it.
N-trig should talk to the touch development community and work with them to create touch development tools. Understand how touch developers are currently creating multitouch applications using frameworks like TUIO. Ask them what software development tools would allow easier or more rapid development with N-trig hardware. Generate community interest by posting new applications on the N-trig website. All of these methods will help bring touch to a greater audience and advance the state of the technology.
When the Latitude XT first launched in promised a new era natural user interface and a revolution in tablet computing. But two years later, that dream has yet to be realized. Instead we find mobile internet devices far outstripping Tablet PCs in consumer mindshare: when people think of touch, they think phones.
As Microsoft’s flagship manufacturer in bringing touch to the Tablet PC, N-trig plays a key role driving the state of touch innovation. Not only does the future of N-trig rest on the resolution of these issues, but the future of all tablet computing. The market needs to have a smooth, reliable and feature-rich platform on which to showcase the power of pen-and-touch technology that is the Tablet PC.
It is up to N-trig to create that platform – or the market will look to someone else.
The GottaBeMobile Tablet Community