22 Comments

Summary:

There’s a rumor bouncing around the web today that the upcoming HP “PalmPad” will be a webOS tablet operated by both touch and a pen. As a long-time tablet enthusiast I would love to see such a slate but I’m afraid that just won’t happen.

hp-slate-nyt

There’s a rumor bouncing around the web today that the upcoming HP “PalmPad” will be a webOS tablet that works with both touch and a Wacom pen. As a long-time tablet enthusiast I would love to see such a slate come to market but I’m afraid that just won’t happen.

Someone recently discovered that HP has trademarked the name PalmPad, and the logical assumption is that the company’s forthcoming slate running webOS is the reason for the trademark. The very idea of a webOS slate is quite exciting, and the company has hinted one is forthcoming.

However, putting a dual digitizer in such a tablet — and that is what would be required to allow both pen input and touch operation — is not very likely for a number of reasons. The cost of such a dual input system would be quite high (active digitizers with pens can add a hundred bucks), and the PalmPad is going to have to hit the market at a reasonable price to have a shot at success. Also, webOS wasn’t written to work with a pen, especially for using handwriting on the screen for data input. This is a big development effort, and there is no way that Palm has gotten this ready for the market; there’s no indication Palm’s even been working on it. Pen input is thus not an option for a tablet appearing later this year.

I am such a geek, and if I let myself dream about a wonderful package for some great technology, a slate with a dual digitizer would be a perfect fit for the Windows 7-based HP Slate. That tablet was first shown in January of this year, and then later said to have been cancelled by HP. I’d love to see the HP Slate with pen input; but then I’d love to see the PalmPad with webOS, too. I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic when it comes to tablets. Or how about a dual-booting slate with both of these tablets merged into one? Pinch me to make sure I’m awake.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): How Microsoft Can Win Back the Tablet Market

  1. One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare, I guess. :-)

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  2. I share your dream (but I’d settle for Win7 with ink). But I have a question as far as the cost. So far, all the Wacom digitizers have used the Penabled technology and certain Wacom peripheral tablets also used it. Wacom now sells the Bamboo peripheral tablet with multitouch and pen input for $99 list. Has Wacom developed a cheaper technology which could be transferred to PC tablets?

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  3. I guess an active digitizer is possible. Especially if they already ordered a lot of them for the HP Slate. They only need a note-taking/annotating app and maybe an artist app to start off and can add more later for WebOS. A tablet device seems great for markup/note taking and not having that available seems very short-sighted but it is easier to follow than to lead.

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  4. James, the other issue is power, Wacom is a battery vampire. There is another option though that is nearly zero power. But even so, HP can’t put in a pen to compete with a pen less iPad and hope to compete with the price point.

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  5. I’d think a slate with a pen would be a huge selling point against the penless iPad and make a great feature. Handwriting recognition is the number one area where slates are truly unbeatable, although manufacturers have yet to produce the perfect device.

    The price argument is somewhat irrelevant at this time given the huge markup Apple charges for it’s hardware. But assuming the manufacturing cost for this new device is in the $250-$350 range, I could see it selling around the $400-$500 mark – right between netbooks and entry notebooks, and much cheaper than the overpriced iPad.

    Better features for $100 less would be stiff competition for Apple.

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  6. Ink this, ink that. Ink is pointless. The only reason to include a pen interface is to go after the sketch artist and mind map market. HP needs to differentiate itself from the current touch pad paradigm, but I don’t think this is a likely scenario.

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    1. Geek On Two Wheels Tuesday, July 20, 2010

      It’s not like you can’t already buy a pen-based tablet. I think they sell around 2 million Windows-based convertible notebooks a year. But this is a tiny tiny market compared to overall 350+ million PCs sold every year. Why would you want to aim for such an extremely small space. Does not make business sense to pursue that line even though I agree there are a handful of cool apps for this device it is just too small to be bothered with imo.

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    2. When’s the last time you had to input a math equation/formula or a diagram of some sort?

      Pen input is invaluable for that, especially for students like myself who get both of those things and more thrown at us all the time. I cannot simply touch-type every form of information out there, and that is where digital ink is anything BUT pointless.

      I just don’t want to put up with kludgy, static paper whenever I need a pen, that’s all.

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  7. Luscious you had a typo:

    “Handwriting recognition is the number one area where slates are truly unbearable…”

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    1. HAH! That was funny!!!

      I’m not sure why you would think they are so, but a digital clipboard opens up a lot of new applications. A device that can merge the advantages of a pen-and-paper clipboard with the touch abilities of the iPad could see many uses in the educational sector, business and logistics, just to name three. Ruggedize it to MIL-810F specs and you now open up military/industrial and field applications.

      If there was ever a device to replace the traditional clipboard, a touchscreen slate would have to be it.

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      1. All good points but as I indicate in my “ink” comment which lists two other uses, that makes it a niche product. HP is so far behind that exploiting a niche will not help them catch up. If you mean they include those “features” along with the what is conventionally expected, there is cost and battery and weight to consider. Are there any off the shelf dual capacitive/resistive screens out there, I don’t know. There is an opportunity there, like the Pixel-Q that is color and b&w, for a dual input screen.

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  8. Slate Advisor Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    It is going to be darn near impossible for PalmPad to compete with iPad. Have you actually seen the real numbers.
    With APple projected to own around 85 percent of the entire tablet market by year end on sales exceeding 10 million iPads for a partial year things look very good for the geniuses in Cupertino. Actually they are now saying that huge demand for iPad overseas has actually CAUSED an new surge in iMacs due to the halo effect of the mighty iPad.

    I think the initial WebOS tablet should not compete directly with iPad, instead attack at the iPads flank by releasing a PalmPad in the 5″-7″ form factor will give HP better chance to capture sales.

    Be aware rumor has it that Apple is contemplating releasing new smaller iPads with extremely impressive Organic LED displays that are supposedly mind-blowing. So HP better get busy if they wanna rope in some serious holiday sales.

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  9. @Slate Advisor

    I do remember a time when a certain PDA company had 90% market share and pundits beamoaning that no challenger could possibly unseat them.

    @ Yacko

    Amen brother I couldn’t agree more. Screw handwriting recognition software how about better voice recognition software.

    HP doesn’t necessarily need to match Apples pricepoint if their product is an order of magnitude better. I don’t think adding a pen is what they need. They need a mass appeal device that a broad userbase would want. They need to have webos fly with “Minority Report” fluidity on the new tablet formfactor with new features that take advantage of the screen real estate. That’s what will set it apart from the iPad graphting of the iPhone UI onto tablet formfactor. Every time I use my iPad I miss my webos more.

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  10. If the assertion here is that such a tablet would require both a resistive and capacitive digitizer; that’s wrong. A single capacitive digitizer can be made to work for both finger and pen input. It’s the pen that has to be modified, not the screen.

    Further, I wouldn’t push the WebOS/PalmPad connection too hard until we see some actual hardware. It’s clear now (unfortunately) that HP was primarily interested in Palm’s IP and possibly trademarks. The PalmPad name may just cash in of the cachet of the former company with little in common with its products.

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    1. Resistive and capacitive digitizers CANNOT coexist. Physically impossible-they both need to be in front of the screen.

      Wacom is NOT resistive, but electro-magnetic resonance (also commonly referred to as “active digitizer”). The EMR board sits BEHIND the screen, and any “contact” is really just the pen nib being depressed and the pen communicating that to the system through the EMR field (which also powers the pen, in Wacom’s case).

      Pen input on a capacitive-only solution is difficult. For starters, a capacitive stylus has to have a fat tip/nib by its very nature.

      Then we have the big issue with palm rejection-with an EMR digitizer, whenever the pen comes into range, any touch digitizer in front of the screen just gets ignored entirely for perfect palm rejection, as the system can easily tell the two input types apart. A capacitive digitizer alone cannot tell a finger, palm, and capacitive stylus tip apart by anything except for contact area.

      Currently, Wacom + capacitive is the only solution I could possibly see working well at the moment. I expect both pen input and finger touch to work excellently, with no fidgeting with the former because of poor palm rejection and none of the accuracy issues with the latter that can result with resistive digitizers.

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      1. Hmmm…

        The two technologies detect different deformations: one physical and the other in a field. There’s no reason they couldn’t coexist as a matter of fact. The question here, which I think you missed, is not “if”, but “why”. By the way, they don’t have to be on top. I have several examples of capacitive digitizers in my lab where the layer is buried quite deep. A resistive digitizer could easily be placed on top of a capacitive one. Again. why would you want to? Finally, at least for a tablet application, would there really be a need to distinguish between inputs to the two types of sensors. Are users really going to be using their fingers and a stylus simultaneously? As for the stylus question, several that work with capacitive screens are already on the market that allow very accurate input.

        When it comes right down to it, it’s really not a question of hardware, but of a UI designed to handle both finger and stylus input as context dictates. If HP was able to pull such a UI off, it would be distinguishing feature in a crowded tablet market; a big plus, as others here have pointed out.

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      2. (Can’t reply to you directly, so I’ll have to make it look like I’m replying to myself.)

        You make some excellent points. I’ll admit that much of my talk between capacitive and resistive coexisting was based on current implementations of the two digitizer technologies.

        “When it comes right down to it, it’s really not a question of hardware, but of a UI designed to handle both finger and stylus input as context dictates.”

        You’ve hit the nail on the head for me here. This is EXACTLY what I want. This is what the Courier concept promised. This is what gave me the “touch to navigate, pen to create” epiphany. You have made me realize that I’m focusing too much on the technology to enable this and not enough on what I’m actually intending to do with it.

        So far, Win7 is the closest to accomplishing this, but it requires a dual digitizer Wacom EMR pen + capacitive finger multi-touch approach. That’s why I’m mostly thinking along those lines-because that’s the existing technology that I already know can pull it off.

        If hover input-capable capacitive digitizers become commonplace, however, they could eat into one of Wacom’s biggest advantages. Part of the reason why artists favor a Wacom pen over a capacitive digitizer + stylus is the fact that they can see a cursor just by having the pen over the screen, and they know where their chosen brush will take effect to the exact pixel as they put the pen down and apply pressure to the nib to draw. Both resistive and capacitive digitizers as currently implemented lack this feature. (Another side effect of this is that current dual digitizer arrangements let the touch digitizer be disabled entirely for perfect palm rejection when the pen comes into hover range.)

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