a reMarkable paper tablet

I am late on this one, as I could have written about this way earlier. But I neglected to do so because it seemed to be just another good idea that will not work out—neither in the market place, nor technologically.

After this dark precursor on a very white device, the reMarkable paper tablet, let me start by pointing out that this is a device that comes close to fulfill my “Digital Assistant” “vision” I uttered in late 2009. In fact, it is the device that comes the closest of the countless devices I had for brief intervals of time (* = still have it): Continue reading “a reMarkable paper tablet”

My problem with todays tablets (Another take on the DA)

It´s not that there is one tablet announcement a day, but there have been many since the last quarter of last year and Android 3.0 being almost ready. I like these tablets (though they are not yet that great that I would recommend a normal, average user that wants to buy an iPad 2 to get an Android tablet instead as software isn´t good enough yet), but they all, including Apple´s solution lack one feature that I really want with a tablet computer: Really great handwriting support, like the old Apple Newton had it about 13 years ago. ASUS (Eee Pad MeMO) and HTC (HTC Flyer) tried to adress this issue in order to differenciate their products, but it´s simply unfortunate, as they just add special frameworks to stock Android to give you some handwriting – there is no way that you will be able to use handwriting with all applications in the same, simple, streamlined way.

Apple Newton 2100 – CC: Paul Jerry

Some of you may ask why I insist that much on handwriting, why I believe it is a crucial feature. First of all, text input on computers is something we are all used to, but it´s not a natural way of writing text. There are many studies that say that handwriting (especially cursive handwriting) is very important for the development of our brains, for remembering things, for being creative. Writing on a stock keyboard is different, it looks different, your fingers move in a very different way – your arms barely move at all while touchtyping.

Back in the 80s and 90s there were dreams about the “paperless office”, which was supposed to come along with the use of computers. This didn´t happen, computerization along with the development of ever better, ever more affordable printing solutions led to the opposite: The use / waste of paper increased, which comes as no surprise if you think of display solutions; the old, huge screens at 60Hz or slightly more with bad resolutions made your eyes tired quite fast, todays LCD displays still do so because of their brightness. But new technologies, be it PixelQis 3Qi screen or Qualcomms Mirasol technology do not only lead to better battery life: they are more eye friendly, while being not as slow as ePaper while refreshing content. These new technologies alongside with great touchscreen technology and really powerful ARM SoCs which allow long battery life with thin and light fanless computing systems can make computing much more intuitive, can make computer text input alot like classic handwriting and thus reduce the waste (or use) of paper a lot, making our workspaces less cluttered.

I know that there are many people out there that are fine with a tablet that is just a device to waste time, to browse websites or to watch videos – but think about it. Tablet computing is a fantastic opportunity for a new computing workflow, for a great, instant on, intuitive and collaborative way of getting your work done.

NoteSlate – Copyright: NoteSlate.com

Instead, many opportunities are being wasted, interfaces are still very much PC like and thus counterintuitive. In fact, I would like to have a system that doesn´t have applications but has activities instead. You may call that “bullshit” as its mostly a rebranding, I personally believe that this changes, if it makes some developers to rethink their approach, is worth it, as it is a change of paradigm.

In fact, the tablet that is the closest to what I am looking for is just a mock up by a czech designer, Martin Hasek, the 13” 1bit color NoteSlate – it´s relatively low tech, but a paper replacement tablet, something to draw on, nothing for multimedia (or even 3D) bullshit. Whether it´ll be THE thing, remains to be seen though – OCR / HWR is not that simple, as the history of the Apple Newton shows, too – and while even low end ARM SoCs (ARM9, ARM11) are quite faster than the Newton 2100 ARM6 CPU, software has become more and more demanding since, or bloated, if you want to name it in another way.  And then there is another thing that remains to be seen: Whether the actual NoteSlate will run Linux – if it doesn´t it´s not for LINMOB ;-)

On Tablets – or the DA

While I have been focussing on mobile, exspecially pocketable computing during the last years, watching what was happening in the wide range from smartphones to subnotebooks, i almost ignored tablets.
Lately tablets have become popular again, at least I feel like that. While TabletPCs only attracted a few and convertibles always were to bulky or expensive in comparison to classical laptops for the most of us, we are facing an armada of new tablets. Ok, most of them are rumors, and others won´ t make it to market – but some will; Apple is said to work on a tablet device, Microsoft might be, many MIDs are using a small tablet like form factor, PixelQi stated that they work on a tablet as well. And I have to mention the CrunchPAD.

Time for my personal tablet vision!

As always, what I will try to point out is inspired by my personal needs. And my personal needs are inspired by what I do. So what do I do? I listen to lots of lectures at university, taking notes on blank or dotted paper. Lots of notes. About 50 – 100 pages a week or so. As you may imagine piles of paper clutter my room. And to be frank: I hate that.

I have been trying many things during the last years, like doing my writings on a netbook or using my cellphones microphone to record the lectures. In fact, I got back to paper, as it works best for me – it is just more convenient to draw and underline important things, to make annotations…

But then there are these piles of paper, again. I learned how to order them, but it takes time, lots of time. And time is money.

Tablets. Most of them seem to be aimed at internet use, and yes, unless you want to write texts and just like to surf around, they may be quite handy at that task – but rethink: Tablets are relatively thin. There are such things as digitizers. Wouldn´ t a tablet and a digitizer make a nice pen and paper replacement? I suppose so.

Hardware. Well, tablets like I would like to see them, don´ t have to be more performant than your workstation is. Of course not – something between the application performance of a high end smarthone and a CULV powered subnotebook should be just fine (sounds like ARM Cortex A8..) ; battery life (preferably all day (8 hours +))and size (thickness (not more than 2 centimeters) is more important than performance on these. Screen. Well, I always liked the OLPCs screen technology, and as PixelQi even managed to improve that, this would be the favourite choice. Touch, of course. Preferably multi touch. And a digitizer, to have a pen.
Screen size? Well, i am not sure – something between 7 (nice to carry) and 12 inch (more size for drawings). And the rest? Wireless connectivity is a must, USB (OTG) always nice, (µ)SD great for storage, a microphone, loudspeaker, integrated microphone/headphone jack, a video port for presentations.

Software. I don´ t really care about the software (though i prefer free software), as long as there is a mode to use it as pen and paper as easy and distraction free as possible.
Then, of course, this “paper mode” should have features like handwriting recognition – well, this sentence is about to become too long, so I´ ll try to list things up:
– archive, calendar-sensitive (e.g. attribute the note to a certain meeting)
– tagging by underlining
– ablility to show pdf (or other docs in the “background” (annotation mode)
Of course there are other nice to haves I would like to see, e.g. Text To Speech and Voice Recognition – to make the lack of a keyboard less of a problem, to make this device a real productive one. Collaboration features, of course…

That´ s why I would call it DA (Digital Assistant) ;)

BTW: There is one product announced today that at least comes close (speaking of hardware), a 10.4” tablet by MOTO.