Tag Archives: Tablet PC

The Tablet is the Computer

One thing discussed often and at great length in nerdy circles these days is this: Is the tablet—by which we really mean the Apple iPad, because it created the market, and presently accounts for nearly two thirds of it—a computer. A PC, if you will?

Some say that the iPad is not really a computer. It has no keyboard. People don’t sit at desks to use it. It lacks the horsepower of most of today’s computers. So they think it’s a big smartphone. I think they are wrong. They misunderstand what is happening.

This is not hard to see in action. Wandering around an airport cafe the other day, everyone had at least one device. But those with an iPad were by far the most comfortable, whether curled up in an armchair or sitting at a table. And they were doing everything: I saw one guy watching a movie, another writing a letter, another CEO-type playing Angry Birds. I was thrown out of the cafe before I was able to finish my research.

At the hairdressers no fashion magazines were being read: Everyone was cradling an iPad, oblivious to the time and their hair being teased into odd shapes.

So let’s look at the data.

Surveys by comScore, a metrics company, point to what is really happening. In studies in the U.S. last October and of Europe released this week [Registration required], they noticed that during the week tablet usage spikes at night—as computer usage drops off. So while during the work day folk are using their PCs, come evening they switch to tablets. (Mobile usage, however, remains flat from about 6 pm.)  The drop in PC usage is even more pronounced in the U.S., while tablet usage in the evening continues to rise until about 11 pm:


In other words, people are using their tablets as computers. Not as mobile devices. Not as replacements for their phone. They’re using them, in the words of a friend of mine, as a replacement to that ancient computer sitting in the corner gathering dust that gets booted up once in a while to write an email or a letter to Granny on.

Now not everyone is using tablets like this. The first surveys of tablet usage indicated they were using them as ‘TV buddies’—things to play with while watching TV. But this still doesn’t quite capture what is happening.

One study by Nielsen found last May that 3 out of 10 Americans were using their computer less frequently after buying a tablet. What’s surprising about this figure is that it’s higher than for all other devices—including gaming consoles, Internet-connected TVs and portable media players. Given the plethora of games and stuff you can get for a tablet, surely more people would be saying that they use these devices less than their netbook, laptop or desktop, now they have a tablet?

That survey was done when less than 5% of U.S. consumers owned one. A year on, that figure is much higher. Pew’s Internet and American Life Project reported on Jan 23 that the number of American adults who owned a tablet grew from 10% to 19% over the holiday period; although their data may not be directly comparable with Nielsen’s it sounds about right. And represents an unprecedented adoption of a new device, or computing platform, or whatever you want to call it.

(Pew also surveys ebook readers and finds the same results. But I think we’ll see a serious divergence between these two types of device. Yes, some tablets are good for reading and some ereaders, like the Kindle Fire, look a lot like a tablet. But they’re different, and used in different ways. I think that while the market will overlap even more, they’ll be like more like the laptop and netbook markets, or the ultrabook and the PC market: they may do similar things but the way people use them, and the reason people buy them, will differ.)

This is rapidly altering the demographics of the average tablet user. Back in 2010, a few months after the first iPad was launched, 18-34 year olds accounted for nearly half the market, according to another Nielsen report. A year on, that figure was down to a little over a third, as older folk jumped aboard. Indeed the number of 55+ iPad users doubled in that period, accounting for more than 25-34 year old users.

(Pew’s figures suggest that while older folk have been slower to adopt, the rate of growth is picking up. Around a quarter of adults up to the age of 49 now have a tablet in the U.S. (a shocking enough figure in itself.) Above 50 the number comes down. But the telling thing to me is that the rate of growth is more or less the same: about a fourfold growth between November 2010 and January 2012. While a lot of these may have been gifts over the holidays, it also suggests that the potential is there.)

So it’s pretty simple. The tablet, OK, the iPad came along and reinvented something that we thought no one wanted—a tablet device with no keyboard. But Apple’s design and marketing savvy, and the ecosystem of apps and peripherals, have made the tablet sexy again. Indeed, it has helped revive several industries that looked dead: the wireless keyboard, for example. ThinkOutside was a company in the early 2000s that made wonderful foldable keyboards for the Palm, but couldn’t make it profitable (and is now part of an apparently moribund company called iGo).

Now look: the website of Logitech, a major peripherals company, has the external keyboard and stand for the iPad as more or less its top product. Logitech reckon a quarter of tablet users want an external keyboard, and three quarters of them want their tablet “to be as productive as their laptop.” Most peripheral companies offer a kind of wireless keyboard, and there are more on the horizon.

And as BusinessWeek reported, the highest grossing app on the iPad appstore this Christmas wasn’t Angry Birds; it was a program for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents, called QuickOffice. The app itself is not new: it’s been around since 2002, and a paired-down version came preinstalled on dozens of devices. But people wouldn’t shell out the extra $10 for the full version—until the iPad came along. Now they happily pay $20 and the company sold $30 million’s worth in 2011. (BusinessWeek links this to growing corporate interest in the iPad but you can see from comScore’s data that this is not necessarily correct. The tablet is a personal device that is mostly used outside the office.)

So. There’s a new industry out there, and it’s for a device that’s not a phone, though it has the same degree of connectivity; it’s not a desktop, though it should be able to do all the things a desktop can do; it’s not a laptop, though it should make the user as productive as a laptop can. And it’s many more things besides: a TV buddy, a sort of device to accompany your downtime in cafes, salons or on the couch.

Gartner, a research company, reckon that from about 17.5 million devices sold in 2010 there will be 325 million sold in 2015. An 18-fold increase. In the same period the annual sales of notebooks will only have doubled, and desktops will have grown by, er, 5%. Hard not to conclude from that that the tablet, OK, the iPad, is going to be everyone’s favorite computer—replacing the desktop, the laptop and whatever ultrabooks, netbooks or thinkbooks are the big thing in 2015.

(Update: This was written before Apple’s results. Tim Cook has confirmed the PC is their main competitor.) 

The Digital Writing Podcast

Recently I wrote (WSJ.com; subscription only I’m afraid) and spoke (BBC World Service; podcast here) about digital writing — the still peripheral business of using a pen to write on paper, and then have that work digitally transferred to a computer, PDA or cellphone. (And then, optionally, have any writing converted to text your computer can use.)

It’s a much maligned, undercovered field. Every year or so a company comes out with a new product and there’s a smattering of articles. Then everyone forgets about it — usually including the people who bought and briefly used the product. I don’t know why this is; I suspect it’s because partly it’s still a bit tricky, in some cases, to use these products, and partly because everyone thinks digital writing is all about TabletPCs — i.e., bringing your laptop with you. It’s not; in fact, nearly all these solutions use paper and pen, which makes them truly portable. My only gripe: the pens, particularly those from Logitech (the io2) and Nokia (the SU-1B), use very basic biro-style ink which isn’t all that nice to write with. I’ve read some people have gotten around this by finding better cartridges and fitting them with tape, but I’ve not tried it.

Getting Excited and Depressed About Scalable Interfaces

This isn’t new, and it’s not even supported anymore, but it’s a great Outlook add-in that is both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because it shows us what we could be doing, depressing because there’s nothing really like this out there that fulfils this kind of potential. It’s Datelens – A Revolutionary Scalable Calendar Interface:

Calendar applications for small handheld devices such as PDAs are growing in popularity. This led us to develop DateLens, a novel calendar interface that supports not only PDAs, but a range of devices, from desktop computers to Tablet PCs. It supports users in performing planning and analysis tasks by using a fisheye representation of dates coupled with compact overviews, user control over the visible timer period, and integrated search. This enables users to see overviews, easily navigate the calendar structure, and discover patterns and outliers. Moreover, DateLens takes advantage of each device, running quickly on PDAs and supporting ink on Tablet PCs.

To get a proper sense of it download the movie/screencast on the page. What impressed me is not the graphics, which are clunky, with too many lines and not enough charm, but its malleability to the user. Or what is called ‘scalable user interfaces’. For example

  • By zooming in on the entry, day or month you’re interested in you can see more of what you need, right down to the half-hour segment itself, but with lots more context;
  • Search for events doesn’t throw up a boring list of matches, but a colour-coded range of matches, plus more colour markings on the scroll bar to show you what else is matching offscreen;
  • Easily assign more space or less to weekends, or months, or weeks;
  • The video/screencast (actually it’s not really a screencast) shows how even something as complex as these features can be explained really easily in three minutes.

Oh, and it’s free. I would love to see this kind of thing introduced into ordinary software. I’m not an Outlook user, which it plugs into directly, or a PocketPC, which it also works well with. But hopefully Microsoft are thinking along these lines. (All this reminded me of the late Jef Raskin’s zoomable user interfaces. What a shame no one ever got that kind of thing onto the desktop computer in his lifetime.)

The Moleskine Report Part I

This week’s column, in tomorrow’s Asian Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com is about Moleskines and how they seem to command the respect of a lot of technorati/blogging elite members (known as BlEMs). Lots of stuff I wasn’t able to include the column, which I’ll feed into the blog over the next few days. Thanks to everyone for their help.

Here to start with is emailed answers by Marc Orchant to my questions about how he uses his Moleskine:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?

My primary PC is a Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC. It has revolutionized my approach to everything else I use. My primary capture tools are a small NoteTaker wallet I bought at a David Allen Getting Things Done seminar years ago (small notepad and a collapsible Rotring pen) and a small Moleskine journal (actually it’s the sketchbook model – blank pages). I also have a Sony Clie UX50 (Palm OS) that is total overkill for my current PDA usage which is checking my schedule or looking up a phone number when I’m out and about.

How do you use them?

I almost always have the Tablet PC with me and capture as much into this primary system as I can – either with the pen or keyboard). In the less frequent situation where I don’t have access to the Tablet, I use the Moleskine for note-taking of any consequence and for creating and working action lists. The NoteTaker is for quick disposable notes (as in “Honey – can you pick a few things up at the store on the way home?”) or actions I want to get into my task management system on the Tablet as soon as I get back to it.

Why still use paper?

There is an immense amount of satisfaction in writing on paper – we tend to forget that in this digital-toy-crazed world we live in. The Moleskine has lovely paper – crisp, creamy, and smooth – that is a pleasure to write on. I use a four-nib Rotring pen that has a mechanical pencil (great for sketching), a roller ball pen, a bright orange dry-lighter, and a PDA stylus tip – all contained in a very precision-machined metal barrel.

I also enjoy flipping through my journal pages, reviewing sketches, diagrams, and ad hoc notes. With the Tablet PC, I get a near-paper experience but the best thing about paper is that it requires no batteries!

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

Very few do, actually although, given my status as one of the resident gadget freaks at my office, I have made a lot of people *very* curious ;^)

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

See above. Yes – very definitely.

Do you see any broader significance in all this? Or is it a fad? The demise of PDAs?

I spend a good amount time in the Getting Things Done discussion forums and there seems to be cyclical pattern to the adoption of, tweaking of, and abandonment of electronics like PDAs. I’ve been using a PDA since the original Newton MessagePad and have probably owned at least a dozen different models over the years. Right now (at least), I’m at a stage in my personal cycle where I don’t want to put up with the hassles a PDA presents. Whether it’s battery life, readability in direct sunlight, a cramped and frustrating text entry UI, or the myriad other things that “suck” about PDAs, the Moleskine has none of these issues.

For me, what has killed the PDA is the Tablet PC – but that’s probably another article. It has completely transformed my approach to computing and, as the Storyteller (my actual title – translate in suit-speak to Marketing & PR Director) at a software company that does all of its business online, I *live* in my computer. It is my primary business tool – even more than the telephone in this day of VOIP and a ubiquitous public network.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a la Logitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I hope that’s not how it goes. I hope the Tablet PC approach emerges as the winning form factor. I’ve used both. The Tablet (admittedly a more expensive proposition) is an infinitely better solution for students and business people.

Thanks, Marc. Here, fyi, are Marc’s blogs:
http://office.weblogsinc.com (a blog about Microsoft Office)
http://tabletpcs.weblogsinc.com (a blog about Tablet PCs)
http://blogs.officezealot.com/marc (Marc’s Outlook on Productivity)

The Audio Wonder Of OneNote

I’ve been playing with OneNote — the Microsoft program that allows you to create and organise notes — quite a bit lately, and I have to say it’s a big leap forward for software.. and Microsoft’s record for innovation.

Here’s an interesting post on a feature I haven’t explored as yet: audio. Wayne reports that OneNote will add timestamps to your text notes as you record audio, so jumping to a particular note will include an icon shortcut to the corresponding part of the audio.

So, say you’re recording a lecture (or an interview, if you can imagine taking your laptop with you): You’re typing (or writing, with a TabletPC) brief notes about what’s being said, but also recording. Hovering your mouse over the notes afterwards will throw up little icons, matching the same point in the recording. Pretty cool.

One comment pointed out that recording audio on a laptop isn’t great. True. You really need an external mike. And while those folk recording lectures, meetings or seminars in civilized environments (quiet, you can get near the subject, power outlets, tables to park your laptop on) should be ok, this is not going to be particularly helpful for us journalists.

For that I’d recommend Olympus digital recorders. Of course there are others but I’ve had one (well three, actually) since 1999 and they’ve been a godsend. The best trick: use an external microphone on a long cable, keep the recorder close to you and use the yellow index button to mark good quotes. When you upload the file to your computer to transcribe, you can quickly jump to the best bits.

Another option if you’re looking to record lectures with your laptop: LectureRecorder.

Grab Some Joe, Burn A CD

Burn and Foam.

Starbucks is now offering a service where customers can browse music on computers in their outlets and then burn a CD of the music they like. Using its own Hear Music brand, Starbucks has launched the service in its new Hear Music Coffeehouse in Santa Monica, Calif. The service will be extended to 10 stores in Seattle later this year. Customers can browse more than 20,000 full-length albums and hundreds of thousands of songs on 70 Tablet PCs.

I’m afraid the press release, though long on background, is short on specifics about how much the service costs, and what format the music is in. Founded in 1990, and acquired by Starbucks Coffee Company in 1999, Hear Music boasts a catalog of nearly 100 CD compilations, handpicking “songs from new and classic records to create CDs that help people discover music they might not hear otherwise”.

Column: the io pen

Loose Wire — The Pen Is Mightier Than The Computer, Too: Check out the io Personal Digital Pen: It’s a pen that can store everything you write and transfer it to your computer; And you don’t have to lug a hand-held device along with you for it to work

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 27 March 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
This is not the first time I’ve reviewed something that tries to marry your doodling to your computer. Most have been shotgun affairs — forced unions that fail to take into account that you might be away from your computer, or that you don’t swagger about with the iron biceps necessary to lug it around with you. This product, however, makes neither of those assumptions, which is why it’s a gadget I’m actually using. It’s called a pen.

Well, to be exact it’s an io Personal Digital Pen from Logitech. But it really does look and feel like a pen. It writes like a pen, with real ink, on real paper. But it also stores everything you write, and will transfer it all to your computer when you return it to its cradle. I have to say it’s pretty neat, and may mark the beginning of Something Useful.

The nub of it all is a simple problem: Despite typing, despite software that interprets your scrawl on a hand-held organizer, despite Microsoft’s Tablet PC [http://www.microsoft.com/tabletpc], there remains a disconnect between scribbles on a notepad and the computer. I’ve reviewed Seiko Instruments’ SmartPad and InkLink products [http://www.siibusinessproducts.com/], which do a good job of letting you store drawings digitally, but both require some sort of computer, whether it’s a laptop or a hand-held device, which limits what you can do with them.

The io Pen

The technology behind the io pen comes from a Swedish company called Anoto AB. It’s been promising for some time to launch a pen that remembers what you write, but Logitech is the first to bring something to market. [Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications offers a similar looking product called a ChatPen, which also uses Anoto’s technology, but it’s geared to transferring your jottings to the world via hand-phone, rather than your computer.]

Anoto’s technology works like this: The pen writes normally, using normal ballpoint pen ink. But while you’re writing, a tiny camera inside the pen is also taking 100 snapshots per second of what you’re doing, mapping your writing via a patchwork of minute dots printed on the paper. All this information — the movement of your pen on the paper, basically — is then stored digitally inside the pen, whether you’re writing longhand, scribbling notes or drawing complex diagrams. You can store up to 40 pages worth of doodles in the pen’s memory. As far as you’re concerned, you’re just using a normal pen.

It’s only when you drop the pen into its PC-connected cradle that the fun begins. Special software on your PC will figure out what you’ve done, and begin to download any documents you’ve written since the last time it was there. Depending on whether you’ve ticked certain boxes on the special notepad, it can also tell whether the document is destined to be an e-mail, a “to do” task, or a diagram to be inserted into a word-processing document. Once the documents are downloaded you can view them as thumbnails, print them out or convert them to other formats.

It’s a neat and simple solution to the problem of storing, sharing and retrieving handwritten notes, as well as for handling diagrams, pictures and other nontext doodling. Unlike the Tablet PC you don’t have to carry around a laptop; unlike the Seiko InkLink and SmartPad, you don’t have to carry around a hand-held organizer or other device. Just whip out the pen and the special paper and you’re off.

Of course, there are downsides. Those of you hoping to see your spidery writing automatically converted to digital text are going to be disappointed: The best the io pen can manage is to offer a slimmed down handwriting recognition which, with some training, can convert letters entered into special boxes into text for e-mail addresses, document names, etc. [This doesn’t work terribly well, and to me isn’t a selling point.] Others might find the pen a tad bulky: It looks more like a cigar than a pen, though it fits snugly into the hand. It’s also pricey: around $200 for the pen, a pad, and some refills, but expect to pay up to $25 for replacement sets of pads.

I think it’s a great product because it doesn’t try to fix something that’s not broken: It doesn’t force you to work differently — walking around with a screen strapped to your arm, or carting along extra bits and pieces. The pen is light and works like a normal pen if you need it to, while the special notepads look and feel like, well, notepads. The only strange looks will be from people who are curious why you’re writing with a cigar.

It also has potential elsewhere. FedEx, for example, is introducing a version of the pen so that customers can fill out forms by hand — instead of punching letters into cumbersome devices. Once that data is digital more or less anything can be done with it — transferring it wirelessly to a central computer, for example, or via a hand-phone. Doctors could transmit their prescriptions direct to pharmacies, reducing fraud; policemen could send their reports back to the station, reducing paperwork; lunchtime brainstorming sessions could easily be shared with the folks back in the office. It’s not that we can’t do all this right now, of course, but given that most people seem happier with a pen and paper than with a hand-held device, I think Anoto’s technology and Logitech’s pen are a realistic marriage of convenience. Have a cigar, boys.