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What Are Tablets Good For? (Help us Spread the Word)



With the upcoming launch of the iPad, a lot of people are talking about slate and convertible Tablet PCs, mostly in  a negative light. How many times have you heard that tablets are only used in a few places- like schools, hospitals and a few other small niches?

Tablet PCs aren’t used as widely as they should be, but I think this is due mostly to the fact that very few people have ever actually used one, their limited availability and price premium. In my opinion, journalists and users need a better education on what Tablet PCs are good for.

I’m going to be putting together a resource page here on GottaBeMobile with as many examples of what Tablet PCs are good for, who they’re good for and how they can improve the Windows experience. We’re also trying to capture the size of the “small niches” that tablets are good for.

For example:

Tablet PCs are good for College Students. There are approximately 18.4 million of them in the U.S alone (Fast Facts). College students enjoy using tablets with multimedia features, such as the HP Pavilion tm2. Many college students use professional Tablet PCs, such as the ThinkPad x200t and HP 2730p to complete coursework in architecture, engineering, mathematics, design and graphics arts.

I know that might sound simple for experienced inkers, but a lot of people don’t even know that the slate and convertible form-factors exist.

I’d like to make this a group project and get your input on what Tablet PCs are good for. Head over to the GBM Forums for more details on what we’re looking for and share your ideas about what tablets are good for.



  1. John

    03/10/2010 at 4:00 pm

    Tablets never became mainsream not so much because the price was wrong but because the OS was wrong. Wrong GUI, resource hog, slow. Even when alternative OS’s where used, the appropriate GUI was only skin-deep. The corresponding apps were few and very elementary in nature. As soon as one wanted more productive, sophisticated apps he/she immediately hit the wall of either the wrong GUI or the complete absence of such apps. A complete paradigm shift was required and this is what is happening now…

    • Brett Gilbertson

      03/11/2010 at 4:05 pm

      Sorry John, but you are completely wrong. I know you are reflecting what the mainstream press like to say in the hope of an iPad success… However I sell tablet PCs to the uninitiated everyday and nobody ever baulks at the 0S!

      They all complain because they have never seen tablet PCs before, and then many baulk at the price (compared to say a netbook). When they realise the true benefits they buy anyway!

      The problem is with IT retailers who do not know how to sell on benefit, and marketers with the same problem.

      • Michael

        03/11/2010 at 5:32 pm

        I agree with you completely Brett. My first Tablet ran XP Tablet edition, and if anything, it made the Tablet easier to use, since I didn’t have to re-learn an entire OS, I only had to learn the Tablet-ey parts. I was blown away by the Tablet, and still am.

        I believe the problem with the Tablet’s overall lack of adoption in mainstream has been marketing. Especially in Microsoft’s case. The Tablet combined with OneNote is such a good fit, and it really does meet a lot of different needs, yet Microsoft’s support for the Tablet in general and OneNote specifically, has been completely non-existent. It is absolutely incredulous that Apple touts a few gimmicks and tricks that make up the iPad, when Tablets have been doing those same things, solidly, for years. But no one even knows.

        • Brett Gilbertson

          03/11/2010 at 6:17 pm

          hear hear!

        • Jeremy

          03/12/2010 at 8:28 am

          I agree with Brett. I remember …geez… 6 or 7 years ago when I needed a Tablet PC. I just couldn’t let go of that keyboard, it was like a security blanket! I bought a Toshiba convertible…3 months later I repented, sold it at a loss of over $1000 and converted completely to the slate form factor (HP 1100C). Never looked back.
          I have a mission now: I ask everyone I can to compare how fast they type to how fast they write. It’s surprising everyone from retirees to uni students..why are we sooo focussed on having our security blanket? I mean, keyboard. When we’re walking and working?
          A mate of mine recently converted to the slate PC. He tossed out his old Toughbook (it broke, contrary to popular belief) and replaced it with a Motion F5 Tablet PC.
          He’s gone from 2 inspections per day (and abuse from his missus as he used to have to re-type his handwritten notes into his Toughbooks laptop at night) to between 4 or 5 inspections per day. His missus loves the F5 because he’s able to do all his computing while he’s walking, leaving him free to do the dishes when he comes home!! ;-)

          I think the paradigm shift is with how people perceive the Tablet PC. The QWERTY keyboard was originally designed to slow people down. The Tablet PC is designed to speed things up again.

  2. Scott Williams

    03/10/2010 at 4:43 pm

    The bottem line is that the PC industry has no vision to create new usage. I have been using Tablets since their inception, the early Toshiba’s the convertable HP TC1XXX, the Motion Slates and now use a convertable HP TC2XXX version. Combined with OneNote the tablet is far and away the best note taking meeting attending device I have ever used.

    IMHO the real stopping points from the PC side have been, in no particular order:

    Price (competing with Laptops instead of trying to carve a new niche.)
    Instant On, still not possible with PC’s today
    Battery life versus weight, again so far not solved by the current full tablets.

    What is finally happening is a divergent market. The PC industry is about content creation targeted at the Business Enterprise first and foremost, everything spins off of this direction.

    What has changed is Apple is approaching the market from the consumer content consumption side with less content creation emphasis by the end user.

    They are answering all the show stoppers that the PC industry has not addressed yet.

    Price: Need I say more
    Instant On: Check
    Battery vs. Weight: very acceptable

    I hate the idea that Microsoft never saw the wisdom to use CE in the role that Apple is using the iPhone OS, a very comperable comparison. They insisted that a Tablet had to be full fidelity so you could give up your laptop and not be lacking any of the creation features.

    They never ran the game changing add that a Table is not your fathers Laptop, never showed the music composer under the tree creating the next U2 hit, never showed the artist drawing in a French town, never showed the engineer drawing live circuit diagrams. All these were possible and many more that were never promoted because they did not fit the corporate mind set.


    A former Softy FTE

    • Sam

      03/10/2010 at 11:49 pm

      It seems Microsoft has finally got sleep/wakeup problems under control with Windows 7.

      I haven’t had sleep/wakeup problems on my P1620/W7. It takes roughly 3 seconds to wake up to the OS + whatever time it takes for applications to wake up and redraw the windows–I just tried it, with about 30 tabs open in Chrome, Kindle for PC, and OneNote open, it took about 6 seconds before I was able to do anything. If I just had OneNote open, it would probably be pretty close to 4 seconds to go from opening to working, usefully close to instant-on.

      For awhile, I had a different annoying problem–every so often the screen would go blank, and I’d have to put it to sleep then wake it up to work again. Updating the display driver to the new Windows 7 version appears to have fixed that.

      Size (length & width smaller than an iPad, but quite a bit thicker) and weight (2.2-2.5lb depending on battery) are acceptable, though lighter and thinner is always better. Price was fine for me, but I bought it used. A new P1630 is really priced rather astronomically.

      With the netbook based tablets (from Gigabyte, Asus, and Lenovo to start), the entry cost has come down quite a bit, and HP’s consumer tablet isn’t too bad pricewise.

  3. Jeff Jackson

    03/10/2010 at 5:20 pm

    I think what John is saying is nonsense. The “paradigm shift” that is happening now is that the new tablets are nothing more than slightly larger PDAs. They are designed to let you look at your email and dash off a short reply or passively consume “content”, not productivity devices. Even a large size touch keyboard possible on an iPad or TabletPC isn’t usable for serious note taking. You can’t use it without looking at it, whereas I can ink to my heart’s content with only an occasionl glance at the screen. Notetaking requires inking. Period.

    The problems with the old Tablets are several, but they start with price and end with bugs. The price differential between a TabletPC and a similarly powered LaptopPC was, and still is, north of $500. Actually, a few years ago it was more like north of $1000, so I guess the situation has improved some. There simply isn’t that much added value for most people. The price differential needs to be about an order of magnitude smaller. Unfortunately, it appears that is going to be achieved by throwing away the stylus. Without the stylus, you can’t use a tablet for productivity applications, only “content” consumption.

    While the GUI’s could have used some improvement, the main problem with them was the bugginess of them. To this day you can’t get pressure sensitivity in Photoshop with any tablet on the market (except Wacom’s own Cintiq, hmmmmm). Yes, there are drivers and kludges floating around that sort of do it, but they always break something, or crash the system frequently. No one but Wacom seems to be able to write wintab drivers, and Adobe refuses to support anything but wintab drivers (ie, won’t support the native Windows API that does have pressure sensitivity), and Wacom seems to refuse to release fixes for the wintab drivers they did release ages ago. The result is, if you want pressure sensitivity in Photoshop, you have to give up on being able to rotate the screen, or using the button on the pen, or breathing to deeply for fear your machine will crash, or whatever it is that doesn’t work on your particular tablet. If ever there was a killer app for tablets, it’s Photoshop. Too bad it doesn’t (and evidently never will) work.

    The other bug that tablets have been plagued with are sleep issues. Is there any tablet out there that you can put in sleep mode and have it reliably wake up without black screening? Maybe some of the newer chipsets work. After 2.5 years, I still haven’t found the right set of registry hacks and driver updates to get my C-120x to wake up reliably. I’m getting close, but now about 20-30 seconds after waking up, it locks up for 30-60 seconds, then works OK. Fortunately hibernate seems to work OK.

    I use my tablet daily, and curse it hourly. I use it to design GUI’s (nothing better for drawing and modifying rough drafts), take notes during sermons, meetings, reading, etc., ebook reading (using Logos), and some light content consumption (though I actually do most of that with my phone).

    The HP slate form factor looks almost perfect for me, if only it had an active digitizer and stylus. If that were what it was going to be, and was priced about $500, I’d buy it this very minute. But it isn’t, so I’m not even interested in it at half that price.

    • acerbic

      03/10/2010 at 8:16 pm

      HP Touchsmart tm2t has a capacitive touchscreen, active digitizer and stylus and prices start at a little over $800. One would imagine that a smaller screen, no keyboard and a simpler mechanical structure would allow HP to squeeze the price of the Slate lower even if it has all that. If they do that, I’ll click the order button as soon as one pops up.

    • Eric

      03/11/2010 at 10:41 am

      My HP TC4400 has never had an issue with coming out of sleep. The lastest BIOS update actually slowed the process down, but it’s not a big deal. Very please with the sleep on this machine. However, don’t compare it to the sleep on my MacBook Pro…now that’s the way it should be.

  4. John

    03/10/2010 at 6:36 pm

    Jeff, you call nonsense what you seem to support. You are talking about bugs, lack of pressure or gesture support, lack of reliable and fast on/off functionality – all the things, in other words, that mobile OS’s do right and desktop OS’s do wrong. The lack of physical keyboard is not the issue here. A new version of ipad, a well-thought accessory or another manufacturer can remedy this.

    What is important is that you may be able to have a full productivity suite like iWork today or Office tomorrow running on top of a light-weight, touch/gesture based OS. It may not cover 100% of the functionality of the desktop version, but it may well cover 95% of it for 95% of the users. It is not a matter of bugs. It is a matter of the right OS…

    • GoodThings2Life

      03/11/2010 at 6:48 am

      Inaccurate at best. The OS supports much of the functionality that true tablet users should need. Windows 7 is a fantastic multi-touch capable, pen-abled OS… fast sleep/wake-up, great handwriting RECOGNITION– not just interpretation, and supports things like pressure sensitivity.

      Jeff is exactly right that it’s application and hardware vendors that have botched the implementation, and if you want to blame Microsoft it’s that they didn’t require a set of hardware specifications to be tablet certified. (Of course, every time they’ve tried “requirements” on the desktop side everybody cries about antitrust, but that’s another matter.)

      Look at the Dell tablet… Rob Bushway here at GBM is an avid tablet user and proponent but never could get adequate driver support from Dell. That’s clearly an OEM issue. Adobe refuses to support anything they don’t like, which is ironic since they want to be on Apple and get treated the same way.

      The real problem here is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink… and that’s what Microsoft has done– provided capability that no one has sucked up. I’m not saying the Office team is any better… OneNote is great, but support in Outlook and the rest of the suite is terrible. Microsoft should be leading by example, and that’s their fault.

      But to say it’s their fault alone and that Apple has magically and suddenly “done it right” is just foolish.

  5. SAM

    03/10/2010 at 7:27 pm

    The 2 main problems I see are:
    Most programs are written for keyboard and mouse.
    For example, Photoshop editing is great for tablet pc, but also keyboard shortcuts
    are alot faster. I use the tablet pc in laptop mode and
    edit on screen and use the keyboard too. My arm hasn’t gotten so weak I can’t lift it up to the screen yet, but
    I have read complaints that some people only want to work flat and can’t use the keyboard.

    The cost.
    Most people don’t understand why the huge
    price difference. Unless you know what a Tablet PC does,
    they pass on it by for something less.

    Tablet friendly programs/uses:
    One Note, ActiveInk form program, and Sketchbook Pro seems to be very pen friendly for example.

    I use my tablet pc to take orders and sketch out logos, layouts for customers. Most of our customers are contractors and regular non-tech business’. Computers and gadgets are
    not their main tools of business.

    It seems to be faster and more personal to handwrite the
    order in front of them, rather than type it out.
    Typing limits you to try to remember things that are faster in a quick sketch with arrows and/or notes, at least for
    our type of business.

    Also, the customer can draw on it for us to show what they want. Most think this(tablet pc)is neat.
    One of our customers thought it was a “pretty expensive Etch-a-sketch though”

    OneNote comes in handy for daily notes and side projects.

    Sketchbook Pro is great for quick sketches of something
    or a projects layout. Works great for entertaining small realtives(kids)

    I haven’t experienced too many OS problems, but we are running XP tablet. It’s fast and reliable for what we use it for.

    I will say, RitePen is handy for some programs,
    like Excel, because you can write directly in the cell.

    MS TIP isn’t the most friendly tool in some cases.

    Alot of people seem to be resistant to learn new things.
    It takes a little while to learn to operate a pen. Not a
    big deal, but to some I guess it is.

    MOst people do not know what a tablet pc is, nor see
    a need for it to justify the extra expense.
    The manufacturers have just relagated it to a specialized market for the people thqat already know the product.

    (Hope this wasn’t too long winded)

  6. Pyxus

    03/10/2010 at 8:29 pm

    I use my LE1700 daily to read and annotate PDFs of scientific papers (biomedical research)… these are usually large PDFs with color pictures (where color is very important!); nothing could replace a tablet for that… ebook readers lack color, and pen input seems painfully slow on them. iPad/Slate lack inking capability… so far, only the LE1700 with its active digitizer and 1400×1050 SXGA resolution fits the bill for me… I also use it as a full desktop computer via the docking station and external screen/keyboard/mouse combo.
    I also use OneNote for meetings, writing down thoughts and hypotheses, ‘clipping’ parts of papers for further annotation and analysis, etc…
    It’s PERFECT! (and yes, it’s expensive – especially after I switched the hard drive to a 128GB SSD)
    Guess what, the LE1700 was discontinued recently.
    Any other/newer high-resolution (SXGA) slate/inking tablet coming out? No…
    I just hope my LCD back-light will last for a loooong time.
    All these new touch/active tablets are fun (eg HP 2740p, X201T etc…), but 1280×800 resolution is not enough for comfortable science PDF reading IMO, particularly in portrait mode…

  7. feralboy

    03/10/2010 at 9:31 pm

    Windows 7 works pretty well on my old X60 tablet…it wakes up pretty fast and pretty consistently. Yeah, still, every couple of weeks or so I may have to reboot, but it’s not much of a problem. One of the things that Microsoft got right, that users still don’t get, is that their philosophy has always been to use the right tool for the job…a keyboard rules for quick input or lenghthy work, the pen rules for note-taking, drawing, or surfing on the couch. Voice has it’s place, too, I guess (: I’ve been using a convertible tablet for years, and I swivel from portrait to landscape, keyboard to pen, without a thought. It’s like picking up a hammer when you need a hammer or going for the screwdriver when that’s what you need. As for Windows CE, Microsoft did support CE tablets years ago…there were tablet devices running Windows CE, but they were ahead of their time and price prohibitive. For me, Windows 7 rocks tablet PCs. Of course, I admit to being more of a creator than a consumer. Having to switch tools and use less able cousins wouldn’t work for me.

    Thanks for reminding folks that tablets are viable outside the obvious niches!

  8. double_o_don

    03/10/2010 at 11:37 pm

    BTW- I was in a Verizon (corporate) store in Tucson on Saturday and their POS had been entirely converted to Motion C5’s. The staff was expected to undock them and work with customers out on the floor.
    Unfortunately you can probably guess how many of the F5’s were actually in use on the floor though (none).
    I ended up walking my “customer rep” through several tablet tricks on my trusty M1400, for which I was activating and old WWAN card.
    Another niche…. no so filled….

  9. RobertM

    03/11/2010 at 4:44 am

    I recently did a presentation at my college about what tablet pc’s can be used for in japanese ( I moved to japan on a scholarship and this was part of a project showing how I’ve learned japanese this past year ). I covered everything Everything I could in 10 minutes, telling them about different digitizers/touchscreens, slate/convertible, how the Ipad is just an big Iphone and should not be used as a reference etc and about hard core examples like when trying to find that math theory you wrote 5 months ago through onenote is fast and easy etc. Needless to say people(students and teachers) were not impressed with tablets but they understood that the Ipad was useless. There was some distinct interest in the Hp Tm2 but once I told them that here in Japan for reasons beyond me it’s not going to be sold they lost all interest. So then I mentioned about MS Courier and they said they will keep it in mind. 2 weeks later they don’t remember squat about what I put huge effort into being able to explain simply to them, and that’s coming from techies like us.
    Honestly I get the feeling that unless they see one in action daily they’ll just treat tablets as technobable. Unfortunately for me, I am still not an owner of a tablet pc so I couldn’t do that.
    I’ve saved up lots of money so I might go with my only option here, the x201t for about 2300$ worth but the lack of hdmi is killing me, and Ms courier on the horizon( q2 2010 in tablet pc time is light speed) is advising me against it.
    I was thinking what was it that got me into finding out about tablets and I realized that it wasn’t the fact that as a student I could benefit greatly from it but from the fact that I have a thing for CG Art, and that tablets= Cheap wacom cintiq.
    All I can say is that MS Courier, like the Ipad before we found out what it really was, is the only thing that might usher in the tablet pc era we have been hoping for so long.

  10. Dan

    03/11/2010 at 9:36 am

    Well, if nothing else, you can see from the replies already that the proper response is lining up to be ‘it depends.’ It is going to depend on what the device is used for by each individual.

    I agree with what is already stated above that the present onslaught of offerings are targeted towards information consumption, but I would not go so far as to say they are big PDA’s. To some extent they are but a PDA is still something I used for years (and still use by the way) to input data not just consume it. These upcoming devices are big screen iPhones or big screen iPods (or Zune’s) that do not even have the functionality of the old PDA. What a waste.

    So why is it that the TabletPC never took off? My opinions:
    1. Size – for the most part these things are too big and heavy to be a go-everywhere device. Consider my long trail of PocketPC’s in comparison; it fits in my pocket and the screen is actually usable for such a small device. A 4″ VGA screen on my HP 4705, for instance, is lightyears more usable than a 4″ Tablet. If a small tablet, say with a 4″ or 5″ screen, could zoom like the new Opera Mobile v10 beta where a section of a screen could be zoomed in with a simple tap and then panned around, it would be wonderful. This is totally missing on a tablet where the small screen is nothing more than an eye chart. In the same context, try editing a word document on a UMPC vs. my PDA…the PDA wins hands down. The smallest usable size tablet today is about 10″ in portrait mode, and for heavens sake, get rid of the wide screen aspect ratio.
    2. Cost – my IBM Thinkpad Z61t cost me $950 new; my HP 2730P cost me $1,150 used. Nearly the same power and weight, what does the 2730P offer me that the Z61t does not? Remember that when it comes to consumers the cost ‘differential’ needs to have an equal or superior ‘benefit’ before the market will shift. The tablet is not advertised to have any benefit, especially if it comes with an ATTACHED KEYBOARD. Everyone that watches me use my 2730P with my pen loves it and wants one, but when they hear how much a new one costs they would rather buy a netbook and just use a keyboard. If I pull my Z61t out of the drawer and use that it is not even noticed as it is just another laptop with a keyboard. If I use the 2730 with the keyboard it gets the same attention.

    What ‘Dan’ would really like to see for a TabletPC v2.0:
    1. A slate tablet with a 6″ 4×3 screen aspect ratio that does not have a fixed resolution but rather a dynamic system that allows windowing in, windowing out, and panning on the fly.
    2. A slate where the screen is 90% or more of the size of the device. I do not want a big heavy looking bezel with buttons all around the edge of the screen.
    3. An active digitizer for pen input, and multitouch for the zooming and panning.
    4. 1/2″ thick or less and less than 1/2 pound.
    5. Capable of running a ‘full’ version of Office, CAD or sketching program(s), and local storage of the files, not in the ‘cloud’ off on some server waiting to be hacked into.
    6. Sync software, similar to the Windows Live Sync system to sync to my desktop at home if I want to.
    7. A dock that I can place the device when I get home that will show the screen on a larger LCD, access network connections, USB keyboard and mouse, CDR/DVD RAM, external hard drive for backup and storage, etc.

    My vision for such a device is to think of it this way; a 1/2″ thick clear piece of lexan with the computer internals encased in the plastic, the connections along the outboard edge, the display projected onto the top surface similar to MS Surface technology, and it has a solar charger on it to assist with battery longevity.

    The size would be perfect to fit in my old Franklin Planner ‘classic’ size binder, or I could slip it into my jacket pocket when I go out to dinner/show with the family. That way I have my contact lists, calendar, email and documents with me wherever I go, but I don’t have to sync them to anything when I get home. Also, if I want to edit a contact when I run into a friend at the gas station I don’t have to WRITE IT ON PAPER and update it when I get home.

    I, personally, spend less time ‘browsing’ the internet or reading ‘ebooks’ than I do updating MY BLOG, designing the look and art on MY WEBSITE, or WRITING MY OWN BOOK. Clearly I am not a ‘consimer’ of information but a creator.

    So far, everything has let ME down except for my old 4″ VGA PDA. The new planned tablets, the new big screen iPods or planned big screen Zune, even my 2730P, are not as useful on a daily basis as my HP 4705 that is, what, 10 years old now?

    Shutting up now…

    • Mat

      03/16/2010 at 7:58 am

      I once had a client ring me and ask for a 23″ Tablet PC with a TB Solid State Hard drive that was also less than 2kg in weight, and when I told him it did’t exist, he said that he thought technology was not yet where he needed it to be…..

      The Motion J3400 I choose to use nails every point you mention, its weight, capability, size (although bigger than you wish for) is perfect for all day, anywhere use. And really, touch is so uneccessary in a real working environment. (other than POS, that is) Text recognition is where its at if you want to accomplish anyhting!

  11. John

    03/11/2010 at 10:23 am

    Win 7 may support multitouch, pressure and other input methods, but it is not built around these. This is a huge difference. Win7 and every other desktop OS is designed from the ground up to be used with a keyboard and a mouse. GUI however is not the only problem. Can we have a super slim, super light windows slate with great battery life, that will always run smoothly and will not show signs of slugging say because of heat issues (passive cooling) or because at some point an AV program decided to start updating in the background?

    We are not talking about handwritting only here. Nor this is a vs between MS and Apple. We are talking about extreme mobility and a class of devices that by their nature are not designed to be used with the standard keyboard and mouse. Which OS fulfills their purpose better? A desktop OS or a mobile one? Few years back the answer would be clear because mobiles OS’s were simply crippled versions and no one was developing serious productivity software for commercial use. Now things could change and this is the paradigm shift I am talking about…

  12. Brett Gilbertson

    03/11/2010 at 4:35 pm

    There are just too many people out there with “theories” on what a perfect tablet pc would be… Most of them would turn out like homer simpsons car for the everyman:

    As you can already see from the forum there are so many different Tablet PCs on the market new that they fill all kinds of different roles – right now.

    Great idea on this Xavier, i’ll add some of mine in this afternoon. Point is you can filter out the homer simpsons and see what the real people are already doing with tablet PCs and it is way cooler than some pad that shouldn’t be called a pad (because it doesn’t fill any of the functions of any type of pad)!

  13. Jason

    03/12/2010 at 10:47 am

    personally I use my tablet to read the hundreds of pages of (academic)articles I sometimes have to go through on a daily basis. This is also why I’m looking forward to better and cheaper slate devices.

  14. Bfdonnelly

    03/14/2010 at 3:18 pm

    My Tablet PCs have all been good for what I got them for: non-threatening meetings. _Nothing_ lets you take electronic notes in a non-confrontational way like having a stylus in hand and the tablet flat on a table (desk). Eye contact is maintained and everyone can see roughly what you’re doing.

    No disastrous “Battleship” effect!

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