After the Chicago launch of Windows XP for Tablet PCs, I experienced the next generation of Tablet PCs in action during a brief "test drive".
The first thing you can't help to notice in this era of 14" and 15" notebook screens, is the smaller 10" touch-screen of the Tablet PC. Somehow, all of the Microsoft demos didn't manage to mention this particular "spec". I did realize, however, that once the Tablet PC is propped comfortably on one arm, the smaller size was quite satisfactory, because I held it closer to me. The "effective" size of the Tablet PC is quite similar to larger computer systems, because the distance between my eyes and the Tablet PC screen is much shorter than the typical "arm's length" distance when using either a desktop or laptop, because the Tablet PC doesn't require an interceding keyboard.
The ViewSonic unit's weight (around 3 pounds) was a happy surprise to the point that anything less might have felt flimsy or less stable when balanced on my forearm. The pressure sensitive stylus was quite responsive and utterly natural. Drawing diagrams within the Journal application was totally intuitive and its nuanced reaction to varying degree of pressure immediately makes you want to forget that you ever even thought about drawing with a mouse. As far as recognition goes -- well -- we'll see. In my very limited experiments turning scribbles into text resulted in utter gibberish. Without more time with this device, it was hard to determine if my results were typical.
It was apparent that applications and even the OS itself needs to be tuned carefully for stylus input. For example, clicking the stylus to perform a mouse click, requires you to first point the stylus on the screen and then push its tip into the screen. Due to the Tablet PC's smooth surface, this action almost always results in a tiny glide across the screen that can sometimes be interpreted as a click-drag operation, instead of a simple click. This kind of stutter was obvious even in the hands of Microsoft demonstrators along with another problem -- lack of click feedback. Perhaps a click sound or even a momentary animation will evolve, as a configuration option, much like "cursor-trails" became an option for early laptops. Overall, the direct WYSIWYG feel of the pen and the one-to-one connection between input and display far, far outweigh any of these minor hiccups.
The Tablet PC interface is a delightfully superior way to work with a personal computer.
© 2002 Stephen R. Jones All rights reserved.