Editor’s note: Tech Trends appears every other Monday in Local Tech Wire.Paper has proven itself resistant to digitization. Many relics of the analog world surrendered without much of a fight. Typewriters, label makers, mechanical drafting boards, all crossed over … but not paper. The tablet PC could nudge this stubborn relic toward its seemingly inevitable retirement.

This is part two of a series on a couple of offshoots of digital camera technology. In this article we take a look at the tablet PC. (See link below for a rundown on pens that read.)
The business sector has used tablet PCs for years. Package delivery, insurance claims adjusters, and fast food restaurants, are a few examples.

One of the first tablet PCs to be aimed at the consumer electronics sector is Fujitsu’s Stylistic 3500 … a functional and efficient machine that doubles as a laptop. Other large-scale manufacturers like Microsoft, Sony/Ericsson, Toshiba have joined or are about to join the fray.

What it is and how it works

Two types of tablet PCs are emerging: dedicated stand-alone models and laptop implementations.

The stand-alone version is dedicated to tablet PC functionality while the laptop version incorporates tablet PC functionality in a laptop that includes a docking station with a removable tablet.
The docking station converts the tablet PC to a full-featured laptop by adding a built-in keyboard and incorporating the tablet PC as a hinged display/cover for the laptop. Both styles allow external keyboard and mouse, and both retain inscribed input as both converted text and original graphical input.

Table PCs recognize your handwriting…so long as your handwriting is reasonably intelligible…using ‘fuzzy logic’ (see Fuzzy Logic, below). The technology should not be confused with that employed in Palm-based PDAs (graffiti), which force you to learn to write their way. Tablet PCs try to figure out how you write using image analysis technology.

What it does

Unlike older pen computers and PDAs that required users to learn a cryptic language unique to the device, current tablet PCs allow users to write on the screen with a stylus in either cursive or block print or optionally input via a keyboard.

You hand writing or scribbling or drawing is optionally preserved for display on other devices or stored in a special table application like Journal, which is an application specially designed to work with the tablet PC for taking notes.

What it does not do

Is the tablet PC an idea whose time has come? Maybe … maybe not. The technology that makes handwriting recognition possible is not a mature one … there are still problems with it, even in the best of situations.

With the tablet PC, we can still scribble and doodle and even take out our frustrations, but we definitely lose the ability to crumple and shoot for a three pointer, for good. When the reality of varied handwriting styles is added to the mix, tablet PC seem like a dubious alternative to paper. Even Microsoft admits that consumers should not purchase their tablet PC on the expectation that handwriting recognition is perfect.

Reasons to buy

If you really need premium utility, are prepared to pay a premium price ($3,000-4,000), and are not a klutz, i.e. you’re not apt to drop it, then go for it and enjoy the fun, by all means. You’ll certainly be helping the economy.

Microsoft has announced plans to release its first entry into the tablet PC market this fall. They offer up 10 benefits of ownership … many of which apply across-the-board to other tablet PCs. See the Microsoft link for the complete list. A portion of the list follows :

  • Use Microsoft’s most advanced operating system
  • Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is a superset of Windows XP Professional and provides the power of Windows XP with no sacrifices.

  • Extend the way you work with your PC
  • Lets you interact with your PC in a more natural way by incorporating the convenient and intuitive aspects of pen and paper into the PC experience.

  • Work from anywhere with the most mobile PC
  • Provides everything you expect in a mobile PC, in a form that allows you to be productive in more situations (see Microsoft, below).

Admittedly, it is difficult to see how paper … that medium we love to scribble and doodle on, vent our anger on and sometimes ball up and toss what we claim is a three-pointer…could cease to be anything but an object of monumental importance in our lives; nonetheless, the tablet PC likely represents a big chip falling off the rock that is paper.

References:

Fuzzy Logic http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/Groups/AI/html/faqs/ai/fuzzy/part1/faq-doc-2.html

Microsoft http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/tabletpc/productinfo/Top10Benefits.asp

Related Story: “Pens That Write – and Read: Check Out These Pen Scanners” www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=1774&k=)8&I=30

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