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Summary:

The mobile tech space is in the firm grip of tablet-mania, fueled no doubt by the emergence of the iPad. My experience gained using many different tablets makes it clear to me that the slate form factor alone is not enough to make a slate successful.

HP Slate NYT

The mobile tech space is in the firm grip of tablet-mania, fueled no doubt by the emergence of the iPad . There is a good reason for this, obviously a product with a thin, light slate form factor is appealing to quite a few. Having used slate devices for years, I can understand the excitement that such a gadget can invoke in consumers. My experience gained using many different tablets makes it clear to me that the slate form factor alone is not enough to make a slate successful. It’s all about the user experience.

The iPad is exciting because it takes a platform that was designed from the ground up to be used in a slate form, albeit one very small, and is intended to be totally controlled by touch. All user interaction will take place using touch on the screen, and the platform was designed for that in every way. This guarantees that working with the interface will not be frustrating, and a handheld device that is frustrating to use will be a miserable failure no matter how useful it might be for consumers.

You don’t have to take my word for it, there have been failed attempts that demonstrate what I am saying. Microsoft had good intentions with the UMPC/Origami devices, but they failed miserably in the market. You can make an argument that there were a number of reasons behind the Origami failure, but the primary failing was the miserable user experience. The Origami Project was a slate/touch interface plopped on top of the Windows desktop OS, and it didn’t go far enough to turn Windows into a good slate interface. Even enthusiasts desperate for a slate device couldn’t get behind Origami because it was too frustrating to use.

More recently we saw the same failure in the smartphone space. Windows Mobile has always been an excellent platform for handheld devices, but all versions of the OS to date were not designed for slate/touch operation. Third party shells from HTC and Spb Software went a long way in turning the Windows Mobile interface into a better slate experience, but they couldn’t go far enough due to the old school OS sitting underneath it all. Like the Origami Experience, once you went beyond the cool touch shell on top of the OS, things got frustrating really quickly.

Mobile devices like slates, that are used in the hands by the very nature of the form factor, cannot be frustrating to use. A device can be a great form and be very useful for many, but if it is frustrating to use it will fail in the marketplace. Users need slates to be pleasant to use while doing the things they want to do with them, and they will not tolerate frustration of any kind.

I have great hope that the iPad will be such a slate, given its platform. I also believe that other platforms can be leveraged on slate devices with good results. Android is a platform based on touch interaction, and slates can leverage that with good results. I also think that if Google makes a totally touch-friendly version of the Chrome OS due later this year, that we could see some awesome tablets using that platform.

I don’t have good feelings about any Windows-based tablets such as the HP Slate. I like everything I’ve seen so far about the HP Slate, but having Windows under the hood is not likely to make for a good user experience. If HP puts a good touch interface on the Slate it will be interesting, but as soon as you have to dive into the Windows underpinnings, I’m afraid it will be just like the failed Origami Experience.

Let’s hope that tablet makers are thinking about this too. I believe that the technology exists to make great slates, even by companies not in Cupertino. The slates need to have a thin and light form on the hardware side, and couple that with an interface that is totally designed to be manipulated by fingers. And above all else do not frustrate the user; even a little bit.

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  1. Yes, because having Windows under the hood means users can run real programs and who wants that…?

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    1. I hear that argument all the time. The fact is, there are hundreds of devices already available that will do that. You don’t need a new slate device to do it.

      Like the OS underneath the face, those “real programs” were not written for use on a touch-driven slate, so there’s not much value added with that.

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      1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

        I’m not going to argue that a lot of applications are poorly designed. Regardless of touch experience or otherwise, some apps and developers take the low road.

        But you’ve not convinced me that the iPad gives me any value either. I can’t surf the content I want to surf, and I can neither create nor manipulate the content I want.

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      2. could not agree with you more!

        as a tablet user for quite some time, its the user experience that matters. who cares if i can run 3d studio max on my windows tablet; will it run fast and can you use it?

        the problem w/all tablets these days? all run full blown, non touchscreen optimized os. tablet edition for xp is a joke for a slate design. even win7 is still too much for a slate/tablet or netbook.

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    2. What good is running real programs on a Windows slate if you don’t have an effective means to control them? Windows 7 has touch enhancements, but it can’t magically add awesome touch controls to every application that’s running under it. Watch the Apple announcement section where Phil Schiller is demonstrating the iWorks apps, and notice the specifically touch- and multitouch-oriented ways in which he invokes features. MS Office doesn’t gain those capabilities simply by running in a more touch-friendly version of Windows – they have to be written into the application. The best Windows 7 can do right now is provide a less-crappy touch approximation of the mouse-and-keyboard experience than its predecessors. That doesn’t cut it in a world where users have access to the iPad.

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      1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

        I don’t disagree that applications need to be built to support it– BETTER– but your argument still falls apart when it comes to the big picture stuff. You’re literally thinking too narrow-minded. You think of a few applications that suck, and rather than consider all of the other apps that don’t suck, you trash the whole experience.

        Notetaking, hands down, is a bigger deal to me. It does me absolutely no good to READ content if I can’t manipulate it also. Browsing is great, but if I can’t surf on my own terms it’s worthless to me.

        If I have to compromise on big things in order to have a handful of small things be nice, it’s not progress. HP seems to be working on making the big things better in hopes that the smaller individual problems will be resolved through interest in the platform. I’m perfectly OK with that.

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      2. What percentage of Windows applications support multi-touch input? 1%? For everything else, the best you can get from Win7’s touch capabilities is an approximation of the keyboard-and-mouse interface that’s not as bad as XP’s or Vista’s. I don’t understand how you can possibly argue that I’m “thinking too narrow-minded” when my argument relates to the entire universe of Windows applications. THAT seems like the big compromise to me.

        The iPad already has content creation and manipulation software available: Apple’s ported the iWorks suite, which will allow you to use Office file formats if you’re invested in that system (as I am), and there are plenty of content creation apps already available for the iPhone which will work on the iPad. I’ve been investigating the music creation iPhone apps over the last several days in anticipation of my iPad order, and the power and creativity in that sphere alone surprised the heck out of me. I’m willing to accept that you may have a very specific need that is not yet filled by the iPad, but I think that for general purposes, the device is plenty capable for creation from the start.

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  2. James has a point though. You can either get people to pay with money or you can make people pay with frustration. The most successful companies prefer to make money. Apple scores on relatively frustration free interface. However, things have changed since Origami–such as touch support for Windows 7. Don’t forget that Apple has its own share of frustrations as well. Yes, their interface has an advantage over Windows 7 even now, but that same proprietary approach (lack of flash, proprietory connectors, drm, etc)make things harder for apple. The question is whether HTC and others will do enough. Or if Apple succeeds in redefining everything (no more flash, new standards for connection, etc). Frankly in my opinion HTC and Microsoft need to advertise like heck–and then either negotiate or buy a phone company so as to offer the same kind of $30 unlimited plan the ipad offers . . . imagine a cheap, pay as you go–no phone company frustration–3g? No way. Amazon will do it before Microsoft or HTC in my opinion. But I hope I’m wrong.

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  3. I couldn’t agree more that Windows it the totally wrong way to go for such a device. For me, the key is instant-on and always-on. For my netbook, it takes a minute or so just to wake up from sleep and start using. You can be far more aggressive in power management if all you have to do is push a button and the thing snaps to life.

    It would be far easier to rewrite their Office line into touch-friendly apps than to make Windows into a tablet OS.

    … of course, I’m becoming convinced that Windows/Mac operating systems don’t meet our needs on our PCs in the way a cellphone-style OS could.

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    1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

      You obviously haven’t used Windows 7 on a system with a solid-state drive… it boots faster than my smartphone!

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      1. Solid State drives are expensive, an the good ones that REALLY speed up boot time are really expensive. But what really matters for the slate form factor is not boot time, it is the time it takes to wake from sleep. My iPhone goes from sleeping to usable desktop in about one second. My netbook takes about 10 or 15 second to do the same.

        I don’t mind making that compromise when I have to write an paper or make a powerpoint. But when all I want to do is check my email or look up a quick fact, that 15 seconds is killer.

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  4. Oliver Barrett IV Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Apple just gets touch interface computing. Microsoft plain and simply doesn’t get it at all. If M$ had a clue they would have already completely re-written the horrible Office suite to be fully touch centric. Microsoft can take their stylus and stick it where the sun don’t shine imo. :-)

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    1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

      So your entire argument against an entire platform is that Office isn’t built for it. That’s the first sensible reason I’ve heard, although I take issue with the whole stylus comment given how much time I spend in OneNote. I have always agreed that Microsoft should do MORE to improve the quality— LEAD BY EXAMPLE, absolutely!

      But I have to say that you can lead people to the water, but you can’t make them drink. Microsoft led us here years ago, but most people have stood around waiting to take a drink. Now the water is stale from lack of interest for so long, it’s hilarious that so many have the audacity to complain about the water quality. Good grief!

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      1. Windows in general, and even Windows 7, are not built around touch. They are built around a keyboard and mouse. Most applications for Windows are built around a keyboard and mouse as well. There are certainly some exceptions. But look at the app that HP is always showing off for their slate, Times Reader. Times reader has teeny tiny window controls, two scroll bars. To navigate within articles, you have to press tiny arrows at the bottom of the page. While this is doable with touch, it is annoying and time-consuming. The iPad version of the New York Times by comparison looks like a pleasure to use.

        It is not just applications. Things like scrollbars, tiny controls to close a program, resizing a window, changing volume, and switching wireless networks are difficult to do in Windows by touch. Although with serious tweaking, this becomes manageable, for the vast majority of people, myself included, it just isn’t worth it.

        You mention OneNote as an advantage of a Windows slate device. OneNote, however, is optimized for a stylus, not touch, and the HP Slate is not expected to have an active digitizer.

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      2. @S

        What I love about Windows is the fact that I can customize just about every aspect of the OS. And just about all of it can be done with a simple trip to the good ol’ Control Panel =).

        In the control panel you can control things such as button size, title bar size, scroll bar size, start button/task bar size, title bar colors and many other features of the os.

        You may argue that all this customization causes confusion and hassle, but to most of the people I know who aren’t at all “tech savy” and use windows can do this with no assistance.

        People can say that the masses prefer simplicity, but I tend to think that they also enjoy options, and not to be limited by the OS they use. Time will tell.

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      3. @Netwiz

        Yes, using Windows on a slate can be made usable. But the main reason touch is so popular is to get rid of annoying things like scroll bars. Touch is an entirely different paradigm that requires a completely different UI than the typical keyboard and mouse interface.

        TO respond to your points:

        I help classmates and teachers with computer problems. All of these people use computers on a day to day basis, yet I can confidently tell you that none of them could figure out how to make any of the customizations you mentioned.
        Although some aspects of the operating system can be tweaked, the UI of individual applications cannot.

        I think that the crux of the matter is this. Using Windows affords the user more functionality. But, the vast majority of users never use this extra functionality, relegating pure Windows slate devices to Niche markets. Most of the things that users do every day (browsing the web, reading and responding to e-mail, consuming books, magazines, movies, and music etc.) can be done far easier so on an iPad-like device with none of the headache of a Windows slate, not to mention better portability and battery life.

        Perhaps a Windows slate suits your needs more effectively that the iPad. But you are in the minority, and the sooner HP and other OEM’s realize this, the better.

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      4. By the way, I like Windows and am probably going to get a convertible tablet to school next year, so don’t accuse me of being an apple fanboy. :)

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      5. Don’t worry I won’t accuse anyone of that, and I understand all of your points. I just wanted to point out the customizable options for scroll bars and the like.

        I actually am a big advocate for a device built for touch from the ground up, and have pointed it out before on this site. I think the iPad will succeed greatly :)

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  5. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

    You keep saying running Windows on it is a bad experience, but you have yet to describe in precise reasons WHY you think this.

    Look at every slate that has previously existed– heavy, bulky, and running Windows… XP. XP admittedly isn’t a perfect tablet experience, although it certainly doesn’t SUCK or you wouldn’t have advocated for it for so many years! I came to this site because you were advocating for it!

    What’s more, Windows 7’s tablet and touch experiences are EXCELLENT, and if you expect us to buy into your argument against it, you need to provide some concrete answers why you think so.

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    1. You miss the point. It is not enough for the OS to provide some touch input capability. It is not even enough to have some third party software, like your beloved onenote, that takes advantage of a specific input method. You need the whole platform to be designed around this specific method! Do you see the difference? This is why windows slates never took off – only the folks that wanted handwriting with Onenote were using them…
      Mobile OS is the way to go. Better power management, appropriate GUI platform-wise ect. Just compare the HP slate and the iPad. The latter is way thinner, way lighter, has way longer batery life, way better response to the touch and you will be able to start writting your paper, creating your excel file, or reading your PDF way sooner than trying to do so with the HP. Just wait a little bit for the next wave of serious productive software to reach the app store…

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      1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

        Regarding iPad vs HP slate, you don’t even know what the battery and feature set will be so how can you make any intelligent comparison? You can’t.

        I understand what you’re saying with being “lighter” and that’s a perfectly valid argument for some, but you’re factually wrong on other points. You claim OneNote is limited, but on the contrary it actually supports multiple inputs including keyboards, touch, and pen. In fact, that’s why I love Windows is the diversity and flexibility.

        As for the OS side of things, I stand by the fact that you can’t make developers do anything. You can provide the tools, and you can market/encourage it. Where Microsoft has failed is the marketing and encouragement. They’ve steadily improved things and to claim that Windows 7 isn’t touch friendly is factually wrong. Applications still using 1997-era UI design, I grant you, suck to use as a touch environment, but who still uses those? I certainly don’t.

        I use mostly Microsoft applications, and many business specific apps on the tablets I’ve used over the years and don’t spend half as much time whining about what I lack, because if an application doesn’t suit my needs I stop using it and find something that does. I navigate the OS and applications, I input data, and even manage my entire network infrastructure with a pen on my HP 2730p.

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      2. @GoodThings2LIfe

        I find your insistence that the touch experience on Windows 7 is excellent very amusing. Have you ever used an iPhone or Android device?

        Anyway, because a slate device only has to support touch and maybe pen inputs, it allows the entire user interface to be designed around touch.

        Compare this with Windows. The primary mode of touch input is through the Tablet Input Panel. And the TIP is masterfully done. It is unobstrusive when not required, but easy to call upon when needed. But the goal of the TIP is to provide as much functionality of the touch and pen input methods WITHOUT SACRIFICING THE UTILITY OF THE KEYBOARD INPUT METHOD.

        The compromise is worth making on a convertible tablet, where you need keyboard input support. But on a slate device the compromise becomes unnevessary, unwieldy, resource-hogging, and annoying.

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    2. The Tablet PC Input panel is EXACTLY why Windows is not meant for Pen or Touch interface. Try it on a pen or touch based Windows device and you will understand. It is an overlay to allow touch/pen input into regular OS elements. Not only is it slow, but is buggy and works very kludgy. For a LONG time the TIP was not compatible with all apps (and still is not), Firefox being one that took a long time to support properly.

      Photoshop on a touch based mobile is impossible.

      MS word and OneNote work pretty well except trying to access menu functions. Zooming in/out with the pull down menu is really hard.

      Overall, it is just difficult to use Windows in Pen or Touch only mode. If you compare an iPhone to a Pen/Touch based PC it is painfully obvious how poorly Windows implements the touch/pen interface.

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      1. brettgilbertson Thursday, April 8, 2010

        Try getting a decent Tablet Brad. My TIP is zippy, never have to wait for it at all. I get 35-40 WPM on typing tests with handwriting in the TIP on Windows 7. I get a maximum of 20 WPM on the iPhone which I am very good at.

        How is using a pen (and I’m talking active digitizer) any different from a mouse anyway? It works perfectly on windows.

        Try writing with your finger on a touch screen… It is terrible. There is a place for limited touch devices like the iPad (i’m currently waiting for mine to arrive) but it’s nothing compared to the function of a decent Tablet.

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  6. GoodThings2Life <– this dude is butt hurt about his beloved Windows. LMAO!

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    1. GoodThings2Life Saturday, March 20, 2010

      On the contrary, I can actually take a good debate and don’t take it personally. I have better things to do than sit around whining on forums and spouting off gibberish.

      What I can’t take, however, is people making outlandish claims without any supporting facts or inaccurate facts.

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  7. Origami failed because the form factor was perfect, but Vista was a miserable software experience for a touch and small form factor device. Price didn’t help either.

    I was so excited to be my samsumg Q1, but 3 months later regularly cursed the thing because the battery was pitiful, running apps and browsing the web sucked. The only saving grace was OneNote, but that was not worth $1200 for 1h of battery life.

    Fortunately I got a good price for it off eBay and bought an iPhone to replace it. While the iPhone OS limitations can be a minor irritation, overall iPhone OS is a far better mobile experience than Vista and Win 7 are. This is why the iPad has had such an exciting reception outside the tech world.

    At least Dell gets it and is building a Android OS based mobile. Hopefully they make a complete package like the iPad.

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    1. brettgilbertson Thursday, April 8, 2010

      Sorry Brad, I get it now. You had a Q1. I understand, and I also had one of those. Fortunately it was one of many Tablets that I had, and certainly lumped in with most of the touch based origami devices I’ve had as some of the worst!

      As far as I’m concerned touch devices might as well be mobile OS, as long someone makes me a nice light, fast slate with a Windows and a Wacom active digitizer I’m happy (I hear that the HP slate has an active digitizer)!

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  8. The one thing for sure in the Slate market is that Microsoft will have nothing to do with it. Microsoft is out of the game.

    It’s not only the “Windows experience” that is rotten. Windows drains too much battery power (because it uses x86 processors that are unsuitable for portable use), so no one will want it.

    All the successful slates will use the ARM processors. iPad and Android slates will dominate. Microsoft’s only suitable OS that uses ARM is Windows Mobile, which is now in its dying days.

    Microsoft’s next ARM OS, ‘Windows Phone 7 Series’ is still vaporware. Microsoft is 5 years behind, and will be unable to catch up. Apple sorted out the iPhone years ago. When Microsoft’s WP7S hits the streets, supposedly at the end of the year (though I’m sceptical), it will still be missing vital phone features (like copy/paste). The first WP7S handsets will be dysfunctional. It will take Microsoft another revision after that before it has functional phone handsets. And another revision after that before it can then concentrate on the slate market.

    You can see from this scenario that Microsoft has zero chance in either slates or phones, because it is too many years behind the competition, and will take at least 2 years before it can have a WP7S slate in a workable state. The world will not wait for Microsoft to catch up. Android and iPhone/iPad will rule both the phone world and the slate market.

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    1. @Denkie

      Absolutely everything you just stated about WP7S has no evidence to back it up, and I highly doubt that an announced product by a highly recognized company is vaporware. If that were the case I could call the iPad vaporware right now.

      “It will take Microsoft another revision after that before it has functional phone handsets.”
      That would depend on how you define “functional.” ;)

      “and will take at least 2 years before it can have a WP7S slate in a workable state.”
      Where do you get this 2 year figure from? as for whether or not Microsoft will ever make a WP7S slate, I believe that all depends on the will of the OEMs as microsoft does not make hardware for most of its software.

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  9. My $0.02. Windows on a sub-10″ device DOES have it’s uses, be it a netbook, slate, or a stuff-in-your-pocket UH900. For folks that need to BE ABLE TO run applications that require Windows, that ability in such a portable form-factor will outweigh the disadvantages of a lack of a mouse for example or trackball.

    Again it comes down to “does the device fit the task?”. Many times when heading out the door, I’ve left home my shoulder case and notebook, especially when gear that can handle the work can fit in my pocket.

    James is right – slates to me are far more than just form factor, as that alone does not determine if a device will get a certain job done.

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    1. Out of curiosity, what do you do for a living? And what tasks do you accomplish with the UMPC that you couldn’t do with a modern touchscreen smartphone?

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      1. I’d say you’re confusing content consumption with content creation. I could easily throw out here the names of a dozen specific software applications that I use, but I’ll make it an easy argument and mention just one – Cool Edit Pro. ;)

        If you are familiar with the software and work with audio, you’ll appreciate it working on a device that doesn’t require you to always carry a notebook or be tied to a desktop. Two years ago I was running this software on a 8.9″ netbook. Folks who I showed it to were blown away. Today I can do it with more than one device that goes in the pocket.

        Smartphones are cool gadgets, but they were never meant for content creation, and certainly not the type that requires a full OS. The argument for putting a Windows 7 device in your pocket could just as easily apply at the extreme opposite end to the user who puts a 6-core/12-thread Gulftown processor in their notebook – there’s a need for it!

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  10. What a great debate! Haven’t seen a discussion this spirited in a long time! To answer S’s question, what could you not do on a smartphone that you couldn’t do on a UMPC or netbook… well, not much. There is a work around for everything. However, you can do a lot of things more easily on UMPC than you can on a smartphone.

    I’m an academic and an administrator. I’ve owned and used a tablet PC since 2003 (the great HP 1000TC form factor, and others), Windows CE devices, Palm, iPod Touch, and now, I’m mostly on a Mac. When I teach, I use a tablet because pen input makes sense for lecturing. When I do the rest of my work (email, writing, creating content) or play (photography), it’s Mac all the way. Clean OS, doesn’t crash, etc. On the go for staying in touch, it’s BlackBerry (although other than email, I don’t care much for RIM). So, I have a whole mix of requirements, and no one device to date satisfies all.

    When I’m at home or work, I can have an extra device around in case I need it. But when I’m on the go and need to present at a conference or to a potential industry partner, I don’t need much, other than PowerPoint and access to files. Smartphones remind me of the old Windows CE devices? Ever try to read, create, or edit a complex PowerPoint slide with graphics, equations, and mixed text on a 2″ screen? Forget it! But I don’t want to haul my laptop across the ocean just to make 2 hour’s worth of on-the-fly edits to my slideshow because my host tells me the night before that the agenda’s changed.

    The iPad almost hits the sweet spot. Personally, I don’t care much for touch computing, but I do want to be able to take notes, slate style, which the iPad doesn’t do – yet. How about an easy USB/video out interface? Again, probably not yet. But the iterations of Tablet PC from Windows CE, Tablet PC 2003, Tablet PC 2005, Vista all were missing something. Not bad, but not quite there… and if it took 5 minutes to boot and the OS crashes, well forget about being productive in front of the client. So, the Windows machines had the hardware/form factor I want, but not the OS.

    … and maybe one day, pigs will fly! ;-)

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    1. Reading your reply, I think the iPad would cover pretty much all of your bases.

      As far as the pen based input, you should be able to use a Pogo Sketch with the iPad. I would bet that a developer is gonna release an application that specifically takes advantage of note taking with a stylus.

      http://tenonedesign.com/sketch.php

      Also, the iPad does support video out. It is VGA out specifically because the majority of projectors are VGA.

      http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC552ZM/A

      You can even access/create presentations on it with Keynote. As a matter of fact, Keynote can open, edit and save to PowerPoint files. With the VGA adapter, you can also present your Keynote/PowerPoint presentations on a projector, which I think would hit one of you main points being an academic. The interface has been completely redesigned to take advantage of the multi-touch display.

      http://www.apple.com/ipad/features/keynote.html

      If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest that you watch the keynote presentation. I think the iPad would be great for you.

      Hope that helps.

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      1. Having used digitizers, resistive touchscreens and capacitive touchcsreens. I can tell you that NOTHING beats a digitizer at giving the write on paper feeling.

        When we want to use a pen on a tablet, it’s not because we just want to use a pen and write on the screen. it’s because we want the feeling of writing on something.

        Here’s my recording of trying to write on a capacitive screen with the capacitive stylus.

        It not as good as a digitizer!

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      2. brettgilbertson Thursday, April 8, 2010

        Please don’t try on the “you can ink on an iPad line!” You might as well compare a finepoint pen to a wax crayon. Nobody is seriously going to ink on a capacitive touch screen with a pogo sketch any sooner than you would give up your pencil for a crayon. LOL.

        The only note taking and digital ink experience that anybody takes to seriously is active digitizer and it’s why windows tablets still have them. Bear in mind that Windows tablets already sell 3-4 million a year without any iPad type buzz because of this feature.

        iPads are not intended for note taking.

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