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Tablet PC 2.0: How Important is the Pen?



The heart and soul of GottaBeMobile has been Tablet PCs; we’ve documented and provided news about the latest and greatest tablets to hit the market for several years. Our readers are perhaps the most savvy tablet experts around. That being said, what are your thoughts about purchasing any of the upcoming Tablet 2.0 devices that we’ve been reading so much about? Perhaps the main question to ask is this: How important is pen and inking support?

For most hardcore Tablet PC loyalists, the lack of pen and inking support coming from what we’ve seen with Tablet 2.0 is surely disappointing. Is the lack of inking enough to prevent you from jumping on the Tablet 2.0 bandwagon, or are you holding out hope that one of these companies will realize the pen’s mighty power?

While Tablet PC 2.0, a slate-styled, multimedia consumption device, seems to be knocking at the door to success, the traditional Tablet PC appears to have fallen off the radar. For years, folks have said that Tablet PCs are too expensive, have been marketed poorly, and now seem to be losing the crippled support they had from their Grandpappy Microsoft. These events are all taking place despite the fact that Bill Gates, former Microsoft head, states that the pen has a place in computing.

Sure, we may eventually see support for limited inking on the iPad with a stylus like the Pogo Sketch, but that is truly a limited writing experience. Where are the tablets that feature the pen as the primary method of input? Help us answer the age-old question of whether the pen will yet again be more powerful than the sword keyboard. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and vote in the poll below.

[polldaddy poll=”2703061″]



  1. Dave-in-Mi

    02/15/2010 at 12:01 pm

    In a perfect world, I’d like a sub $500 slate with 8-12″ active digitizer/screen that I can carry around and use as a portable web & media viewer, book reader, sketchpad, notepad, videophone, etc… and at the end of the day, plug in (USB) or sync up (Wifi) to a powerful quad-core desktop and use as a Cintiq-type pen & touch input device. Since that’s probably a pipe dream, I’m keeping my eye on this new HP Touchsmart TM2 as a desktop replacement.

    As a graphic artist, lack of quality pen support is a deal breaker.

  2. Rodfather

    02/15/2010 at 12:45 pm

    I just put in an order for the HP TM2. I can’t wait to ink.

  3. smh

    02/15/2010 at 1:16 pm

    For me one of the core elements defining what a tablet is, is the pen and the inking support – if these functions are taken away then in my book the device is no longer a tablet, but rather a multimedia device or more accurately a “plaything” :)

    While i don’t care about a keyboard attached, i think that many would appreciate the possibility of attaching an external keyboard, specially if they are using the tablet for work.

  4. Irked Inker

    02/15/2010 at 1:20 pm

    A slate-styled device that supports inking *is* (or at least can be) a “full-fledged Tablet PC,” so I’m not clear what distinction you’re trying to make between the first two options in this poll. You mention ink+multitouch in the first choice, but multitouch is *not* a defining feature of a “full-fledged Tablet PC” (though it may be the defining element of the “Tablet 2.0” devices), Indeed, multitouch is a feature available in all 4 of the device categories that you’ve attempted to describe (e.g. Lenovo X201t, TabletKiosk Sahara i440D, HP Slate, Apple iPad). So the choices are ink, ink, no ink, no ink, don’t care?

    • Irked Inker

      02/15/2010 at 1:32 pm

      Correction: the TabletKiosk Sahara i440D slate (and eo series UMPCs) appears to feature Wacom ink + single-point resistive touch, so I retract my attempt to deem it a Tablet 2.0 device. It also means that I’m not aware of any slate-factor devices (released or announced) that support both ink and multitouch. Anybody else know any examples (besides the HP Slate of my dreams)?

      • Matthew Dillon

        02/15/2010 at 2:10 pm

        @Irked Inker: I disagree with you that a Tablet 2.0, slate-styled device with ink support is a full-fledged Tablet PC. I do agree that a slate-styled, ink capable device can be a Tablet PC (with a Windows/Linux based OS), but the upcoming generation of tablets are not Tablet PCs. I would define the Tablet 2.0 devices as mostly non-Intel, having a focus on media consumption, longer battery life, extreme portability, and non Windows OS.

        There are currently no Tablet 2.0 devices that support inking available for purchase (to my knowledge).

        The choices are:
        Full Tablet PC with Ink (even considering Atom-based netbook tablets and slate-styled Tablet PCs)

        A Tablet 2.0 device (as defined above) with Ink – There are none currently available.

        A Tablet 2.0 device with NO ink – Ex: JooJoo Tablet, Notion Ink Adam.

        The iPad (no official support for ink, although likely capable with Pogo Sketch stylus)

        Inking doesn’t matter.

        Ultimately, it would be nice if the Tablet 2.0 devices would support the pen. I believe it would make them much more useful as a daily tool as well as an entertainment platform (especially with their longer battery life). Thanks for your comments.

        • Irked Inker

          02/15/2010 at 7:34 pm

          Matthew, I agree with most of what you’re saying; my problem was with the inclusion of “A Tablet 2.0, slate-styled device that does support inking” in the poll itself.

          I might go with a Tablet 2.0 = ARM processor or Tablet 2.0 = non-Windows argument, but neither of these categorizations would include devices like the HP Slate (Intel processor + Windows) and the JooJoo (Intel Atom processor + Linux-based OS).

          The only available defining feature of Tablet 2.0 = No Ink. While it’s not entirely inconceivable that we’ll see a device that we can’t call a “Tablet PC” supporting inking via a Wacom Penabled or N-trig Duotouch digitizer (for instance, the iRex Iliad eReader uses a Wacom pen), there’s no evidence to suggest that a practical definition of “Tablet 2.0” will/can include a device with “real” ink input.

          Which is the main reason that I’m Irked. Believe me, I’d be more than happy to re-evaluate my cladistics-based approach to Tablet PC vs. Tablet 2.0 once a manufacturer releases, announces, or teases a device that defies my “Tablet 2.0 = No Ink” rule.

          Granted, this is a wish list, not an exercise in phylogenetics, so who cares. Use of the phrase “Tablet 2.0” will probably be just as poorly constrained as “Web 2.0”, so please feel free to continue to drop that term willy-nilly, further contributing to market confusion and the general imprecision of all thought and analysis in contemporary education. Also, the iPad clearly deserves its own category and consideration in all polls and discussions, so good job on that, too. ;-)

  5. Medic

    02/15/2010 at 2:15 pm

    I think the keyboard input method is here to stay. But people will want pen input as well as is taught as a primary input method at school. It is only a small step to using digital ink input methods, and is still a practical input method. Think about daily shopping lists, quick note taking during business meetings, contacts and college notes and of course the occasional drawing and doodling. I’m for a revival of digital inking and proper ink support and ink-to-text recognition.

  6. Mark H

    02/15/2010 at 2:15 pm

    Inking for creating content, touch for consuming content. I would prefer just to have a Tablet that does all the things an iPad does and more and not have to get a limited 3rd device. But my current (convertable) tablet could be thinner, lighter and quieter so it’s closer ergonomically to something like the iPad or even a slate.

  7. Darren

    02/15/2010 at 7:16 pm

    Absolutely love my x200T! Never buying a laptop without a pen again. :)

  8. Paul Harrigan

    02/15/2010 at 11:45 pm

    I agree with the problem distinguishing tablets and tablet 2.0 devices. Frankly, I would be happy with a bluetooth keyboard or a dock like the apple keyboard dock (TC1100 anyone?)

    In my view, the issue is inking. For any sort of detail work, it is essential. Without inking, it’s a toy, and I’m not interested.

  9. Scott

    02/16/2010 at 11:22 am

    I voted for “Tablet PC w/ink & touch” and I’m waiting to see if Fujitsu updates the st6012 to include multi-touch since I love the slate form factor (currently own st5022).

    However, I’m more of a slate fanboy than a Fujitsu fanboy. I’ve got to update soon, which makes it a race between Motion, Fujitsu and HP for my money this summer/fall.

  10. Eric

    02/16/2010 at 11:57 am

    I chose the “full fledged tablet pc…” because I require my computer to run a regular, full time OS (for me that’s either Windows or OSX). Not a specialized OS that might run a few of my necessary work programs if they are ported over in a smaller/light version. I also don’t think of the Tablet 2.0 devices (as defined in the comments) as anything more than toys…nice toys that I might get if I was really wealthy, but toys none-the-less.

  11. Raphael Malikian

    02/17/2010 at 8:18 am

    For me inking is a must. If I could ink on my iPhone by retrofitting a wacom digitiser into it I’d do so in a heartbeat.

  12. Nameless

    02/17/2010 at 10:23 am

    I chose “full-fledged Tablet PC with inking” to play it safe, since those already do what I want. Note that I actually mean the convertible models with hardware keyboards-it’s still a keyboard-and-mouse OS, and most of the software I run on them reflects that. It’s really more like a notebook that’s a tablet when it’s more convenient to be.

    That said, if the Microsoft Courier ever does become reality, I’d buy one as soon as I could afford it. That basically distills my likely uses for Tablet PC functionality (note-taking, sketching, etc.) into a single, focused device that should be far more energy-efficient and portable than my hulking Gateway E-295C/C-142XL. Since I don’t expect it to just run desktop/laptop Windows with a Tablet Input Panel, would it qualify as Tab-ahem, Booklet 2.0 with inking support were it to be a real, on-the-market product?

  13. Sam

    02/17/2010 at 1:03 pm

    For those of us who’ve experienced a truly pen-centric system (e.g. Newton, InkSeine looks that way too), the current Tablet PC with the TIP is a bit disappointing. I want it all, voice, pen, touch, keyboard, mouse in a seamless interface with OS and applications to match. From that POV, all of the existing and soon to be available devices and operating systems are limited compromises.

    About the iPad: the soft keyboard might be the effective return of the Fingerworks MacNTouch. Fingerworks was acquired by Apple in 2005, a few years before the iPhone. Fingerworks developed a capacitive multitouch surface used as a combination keyboard, trackpad, and gesture recognition; the MacNTouch was a version which replaced the keyboard of certain PowerBook and iBook laptop models. Here’s a pic:

  14. Teresa

    02/17/2010 at 10:28 pm

    Like the overwhelming majority on the poll above (64%, right now), I voted for a full-fledged Tablet PC with inking capabilities and multitouch support.

    It’s not just because I work for xThink (developer of software for pen-based math since 2003). It’s because I believe that ultimately, it’s all about creating intelligent software that breaks down the barriers between humans and the power of computers.

    The perennial task is to provide humans with as many interaction options as possible. Look where computing has been and where it’s going: punch cards, then keyboard and mouse clicks, then pen and finger strokes, then voice recognition, now motion recognition, and brain-computer interfaces. There is more opportunity than ever to work on that perennial task.

  15. JOE H

    02/18/2010 at 10:03 am

    I just want a courier w/ a 8 hour battery.

  16. Fred

    02/18/2010 at 12:59 pm

    Pen is as Important as finger input is on a slate (palm rejection touch screen) for business or productivity. If I am going to use it for media consumption then pen is not needed. The problem is that slate manufacturers are more interested in the media consumption market because of the $$ and are mixing capabilities and creating slates that are not really for production. I do Real Estate and fill out forms while standing or walking. I also draw some sketches of areas while walking and my clients sign on the screen. I would like to have a slate that lets me type on the screen keyboard with my fingers because ink recognition has a learning curve and correcting on screen mistakes takes 1 or 2 more steps than typing like in an iPad or iphone. Pen and Palm rejection are also necessary because I am not going to train my clients to not lay the palm on the screen while signing and I don’t want to create vectoring when I am just hand writing notes or drawing sketches on the screen. Some of the forms or contracts that I fill out do not require to be typed so I just use the pen but some others are and on screen keyboard with winger capability is a saver. Typing with the pen is frustrating and slow.

  17. pmatulew

    02/18/2010 at 1:23 pm

    After interacting directly with an 8.5 x 11 input area on a regular basis, I consider regular laptops that don’t respond to a stylus as “broken”. Also touch-only devices are a novelty at best. A finger is just not the precision input device required.

  18. Virtuous

    02/21/2010 at 1:14 am

    The Tablet PC market will decline in a manner similar to the PDA market. Manufacturers will distance their new tablets from Tablet PCs by omitting styli/pens.

  19. Steven Gill

    02/21/2010 at 6:09 am

    It’s all about choice of interaction; depending on your application you may want all or just a few of the following traits, there will always be tradeoffs on cheaper devices, but that may be just fine for those that use them for what they want.

    Edge to edge, >200ppi for smooth ink and using the device close up, A4/Letter paper ratio, as big as weight and the use will allow. (i.e. ~4″ for pocket, ~14″ for arm, as big as possible for surface/ multi-user interaction)

    Fantastic for browsing and consuming content intuitively, works best when apps are specifically designed for touch.

    Essential for accurate pointing (interfaces designed for mouse), drawing, digital ink (note taking) and smaller amounts of direct ink to text

    Physical Keyboard:
    Essential for long periods of structured input (have you tried writing code or long articles with a pen or onscreen keyboard?) also required to act as an adjustable stand for the screen

    Battery life:
    At least all day working would be great 9hrs+

    I would love HP to come back with an updated TC1000, they had it right, but with today’s tech they could add all of above, the keyboard can be removed to reduce bulk but attached when required (keyboard could also include a flat extended battery).
    As a paper replacement & computer interaction technology I think all of the above is required.

  20. Steven Gill

    02/21/2010 at 6:20 am

    Sorry – >120ppi screen although >200ppi would be nice! along with a gfx card for at least well performing Aero.

  21. Scott

    02/21/2010 at 9:06 pm

    Oh good golly! I finally remembered to take my pen with me on a trip to Fry’s and I can tell you that the touch experience is far from perfect for me and my fat fingers because some of the dialog boxes buttons are really small (and my aim is bad/they need to be calibrated)!

    The pen experience was just fine on both the HP tm2t and the Fujitsu 4310. Both machines sensed the proximity of the pen at an adequate height and rejected touch input until I pulled the pen away. As an added bonus, I got to totally freak out the sales rep who thought I was using an ink pen.

    I can understand that touch is great for noodling around the net and for light/quick manipulative work with large movements, but I *need* a pen. I guess I’m stuck being a pen Luddite until someone shows me a killer app for touch.

    I’m beginning to think that I can live without touch and I still want a new slate rather than a convertible. If new slates don’t come out soon, I may have to change my mind though. :(

  22. Roy

    02/21/2010 at 9:31 pm

    I also love my Thinkpad X200t. The pen is very important, as well as 7hr battery life and the reliability.

  23. TimJDav

    02/27/2010 at 4:11 pm

    Is there any info that leads you to the conclusion that the HP slate will not have the ability to INK? I’ve been following it closely, and so far it does not seam they have come out and said what touch sensor or technology they are using.

    I plan to buy the Ipad(I have both the pogo and the cheap stylus with the see through tip off ebay)…but if the HP slate can deliver on Inking and a few other small things(active digitizer like the HP Tm2 has), I’ll buy that too. I love my Tx2, but I would happily turn it into a more powerful laptop with my touch screen if I could do my inking on a slate as small/nice as the HP slate. My TX2 is my primary machine right now.(as a student)

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