06 October 2005

The ultimate marriage of paper and screen

This is a pipe dream right now but I'd like to do the blue-sky thing for a minute and go on the record with an answer to the question "What does the ideal tablet PC look like?" I've carried a paper sketchbook around for 25 years or so, and so I have had plenty of time to ruminate on the subject. Here are some thoughts:

  • It's convertible. It can be used as either a laptop or straight tablet.
  • It's not too small but not too big: about the size of an 8x10 sketchbook, and very thin: no more than three-quarters of an inch thick when closed. This would make it as light and easy to carry as a sketchbook, while keeping the screen large enough to function well with most software.
  • It's tough. It should be able to survive a three-foot fall at least. Maybe the corners have bumpers?
  • The screen feels like paper. The surface should have a somwhat tactile quality, not too glasslike.
  • Handwriting recognition is flawless, or nearly so.
  • It looks cool and is functionally thoughtful. For example, it could take a cue from the Moleskine line of sketchbooks: they look distinctive and have thoughtful features like a built-in folder to hold receipts and an elastic strap to hold the book closed. Note to engineers: this is very important if you want to make millions on the product. remember that a sketchbook is an accessory as much as it is a device.
  • It has a built-in microphone that functions equally well in laptop and tablet modes.
  • It's got built-in wireless and all the standard ports.
  • Its battery lasts at least four hours without a charge.
  • It should be able to interface with the non-digital world. For example, what if it had a built-in scanner or digital camera that could function as a scanner? Then you could scan receipts, napkin-sketches or other non-digital ephemera.
What does your ideal tablet PC look like? Please share your thoughts. Maybe one of you out there will design this thing and make a few million dollars!

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.


thambi said...

It should feel like the Nokia 888

Anonymous said...

You just described the Fujitsu Stylistic series of Tablet PC, except that it isn't a "convertible."

dave said...

Yes -- too bad Fujitsu hasn't figured that out yet. I came within a hair's breadth of buying it but the fact that it wasn't convertible was a deal-breaker.

I bought the Toshiba Portege instead.

Stewart Johnson said...

I've been using a Toshiba Portege M200 for a while now, and you've described it pretty well with your list of points. About the only one it doesn't fit into is that I'm not game to drop it 3 feet. It doesn't have a CD-ROM built-in (it's a USB connected one) which means it's light and small, and the handwriting recognition in XP Tablet is great. I love taking lecture notes with it (I'm doing postgrad, and *wish* I had one when I was undergrad).

It's a fast powerful machine too, so when I get home I chuck it in the docking station and use it with my 21" monitor and external peripherals just like a regular PC.

The great thing about a tablet PC is that the screen is _designed_ to be touched. With a normal laptop fingerprints are a burden, but a tablet screen is specifically designed to have your dirty fingers all over it, and it wipes clean. It doesn't feel exactly like paper, but they have made a pretty good effort to make it a good writing surface.

Having owned a tablet for quite some time, I'm simply staggered that they haven't been a huge runaway success!

Tran said...

Great blog. Keep up the good work. I also like polaroid digital camera websites. Some of my favorites.