It May be an iPad World, but What of the Original Tablet PC?

It May be an iPad World, but What of the Original Tablet PC?

Defining Our Terms

The mention of the word “tablet” to most people today would conjure up an image of an iPad or a similar looking product. What they may not know is that the tablet has already been in existence for roughly a decade.  The original tablet PC was Microsoft’s vision of a mobile computer that maximized productivity. It was a laptop with a swivel screen that allowed you to write on it. The term used for it describes it well, they called it a convertible-tablet PC. I believe they had some good ideas and it can be seen in today’s technology. The tablet PCs of today are obviously much more advanced than what they previously were and they do, in fact, make great computers to perform work. Microsoft also made another attempt at mobile computing but the second time it was going “ultra-mobile” with their Project Origami.

Birth of a New Form Factor

In the spring of 2006 Project Origami was launched and these were small computers in different form factors running Windows.  This would enable people to be productive or surf the web and use their computer anywhere without having to lug around large computers. Mind you this was launched even before netbooks came out. Those were the tiny, cheap, $300 laptops that eventually cost more than their full-sized brethren and were ousted by tablets for those people who have forgotten what those are. The tech world is quite fast paced and if you cannot innovate quickly enough, then you are month old news, this is why tablet PC’s are not well-known. Ultra-mobile PC’s most resemble the modern-style tablet than their older and more dated tablet PC brothers. My Lenovo X200T pictured above does everything for me at school and it does it well. The only thing is why is it that so few people know anything about the tablet PC even after it has gone through an evolution?

The Case for Tablet PCs

The rise in popularity of tablets can be attributed to their slick design, good, cheap software, and affordable price when compared to previous tablet PC’s.  Very few tablet PC’s are sold at an affordable price range sadly but a tablet such as HP’s tm2t can be found for $900 at HP’s website, less with sales and coupons. For what reason would someone wish to purchase a tablet PC over the popular consumer-style tablet like the iPad? The ability to work with a different set of tools. A tablet PC is simply your average Windows computer with extra hardware built-in so everything you already do on an older laptop or desktop can be done on the tablet PC. There is no need for stripped down applications or mobile websites, and it does play games as well, though results may vary as most tablets do not contain high-end graphics. This is done to conserve battery life. Low energy-consuming processors are another example of part included to reduce energy consumption when compared to the average laptop off the shelf at a local electronic store.

Pricing Was, and IS a Major Obstacle

The tm2t, only $50 more than the most expensive iPad, provides a full-sized keyboard, desktop OS with all a person’s familiar applications, multitasking, and the proper ability to write. Both devices have a multi-touch screen but the iPad and other mobile-based tablets lack a pen for input, while “tablet PCs” typically have a stylus. While it may not have the battery life of an iPad, it does well to make it through the day and provide more power to perform tasks when compared to the ARM chip inside an iPad. And yes, as it is a computer, it does do flash! Tablet PC prices vary widely, and can run up to and over $2000, like for Lenovo’s new X220T. This price is hard to justify when compared to a low-end wifi iPad at $499. I do not recommend everybody run out and purchase a tablet PC this very second, but it does provide a benefit of convergence by combining a laptop with the ability to take notes, something that would be difficult to perform for long periods of time on an iPad with its limited file support and palm rejection technology.

So Why Use One in the First Place?

The main selling point behind a tablet PC over a regular computer, or even a tablet such as an iPad, is its ability to take notes just like paper. The tablet PC’s have what is called an active digitizer that allows it to write on the screen without fear of vectoring, or in layman’s terms, scribbles appearing everywhere as a result of your palm resting on the screen. Programs such as Microsoft’s OneNote and Grahl’s PDFAnnotator make great use of this inking ability and give a purpose to owning a computer with this function.  OneNote acts as a virtual backpack. It can be used to create multiple notebooks, each with its own sections and pages. Each notebook or section is searchable and it does a very good job of picking words out of the chicken scratch I call writing all for maximum organization. Tools are also available to make graphs and write in different colours for example. PDFAnnotator is just as it sounds; it allows a person to write on top of a PDF file with their pen.

I am a University student and the amount of equations and math I write are ridiculous. While I do not doubt a pencil and notebook would work, it is simply not as efficient or beneficial as a tablet PC. For example, I had notes for one class in two different notebooks. When I needed to recall a specific formula or concept I would either 1. Have to recall the exact date I had learned the material on and flip to that page, or the more likely option of 2. Flip through every page of the book and hope you do not pass it. Writing on a tablet can give you the ability to search through notes and save you time, and as time is the most valuable thing you have, that is a great plus.

By allowing your computer to be all your notebooks you are saving space and your back from carrying a large load. There is no need to print documents from people, or professors in my case, as you can simply annotate on top of the file and the use of colours in notes is essential. This allows someone to highlight specific points and use colours beyond black, blue, and red. You can even consider yourself environmentally friendly as you are saving plenty of trees. I’ve mentioned just some of the benefits that a tablet PC can provide to a student, but may also apply in one way or another to different jobs in an office or a field. A simple thought exercise should conjure up a few ideas. If you have any great ones, leave your thoughts in the comments!

The Current State of Affairs

Technology inside the tablet PC’s of today also have much improved processing power and battery compared to the first generation. While you won’t be doing any hardcore gaming on some of these machines, for most of the population it would work. These computers can watch HD YouTube, play flash games, and go on Facebook just like any other computer, though it is possible for me to play StarCraft 2 for example at the lowest settings. The battery on my X200T will give me 6 hours before I need a switch, which is enough for me to go on through a day. When the original tablet PC was launched the technology was not where it needed to be so that it was affordable or useful to anyone. Poor battery and high costs killed any hype it had garnered. Now that the technology has caught up there are no advertisements to inform the consumers of the tablet PC and the benefits it can bring.

So Has the iPad Killed off the Tablet PC?

For how much longer though will these niche computers be produced for? My guess is for a good chunk of time as companies such as Lenovo have just released their updated X220T and Toshiba sells their M780. A tablet PC will not necessarily be beneficially for everyone. If what you do does not involve writing, or using a pen in general, you would not get too much benefit from spending the extra money. If someone is out shopping for a laptop already, upgrading to a tablet will cost more, but it will provide a convergence of the devices you use. Sadly though, many people will never know the convenience it can bring simply because they do not know they exist.

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3 Comments on "It May be an iPad World, but What of the Original Tablet PC?"

  1. Having owned all sorts of Tablet PCs, I think you are absolutely right that many people would find that a true Tablet PC would make them more productive at school or on the job while still providing the couch surfing capabilities of the iPad.

    One thing you didn’t mention is that active digitizers allow the PC to do more than just take notes, they allow Windows (through the Tablet Input Panel) to recognize handwriting and convert it to text. With Win7 it has become amazingly accurate – by far Microsoft’s best unknown accomplishment.

    The other thing to note is that beyond OneNote, other MS Office programs support ink as well. This allows you to jot down notes or comments on documents. It also allows you to show a PowerPoint presentation and use your pen add to the presentation while you are projecting it.

    Tablet PCs are something you never realized you needed until you get used to one and then you wonder what you would do without it.

  2. Michael Nare | May 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm |

    You are right Hildy, I did forget to mention the ability of Windows to convert handwriting to text, and it does it quite well. I have had my issues with it but it does work when it is needed.

    That is also true that Microsoft’s other programs do support inking, I just chose to limit what I would talk about to a view specific programs. There are other good tablet programs such as ritePen which make use of inking.

    I debated what computer I would get for a long time, I tried out a Macbook and another Windows laptop, but none served my needs as well as a tablet PC and now, I just can’t go back.

  3. Gary Bunker | May 19, 2011 at 8:18 am |

    It seems that the lack of a physical keyboard and mouse would make any widespread adoption of a Windows pure tablet difficult. Some programs require mouse hovering and right-clicking, and a lot of productivity software is more usable with keyboard shortcuts that are tough to handle with a soft keyboard.

    I’d love to own a convertible, but they’ve been either very expensive or very underpowered so far. Maybe Win8 will be a better fit.

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