Then and now – Favorite Tablet PC features?

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Tablet PCs have been around long enough that "then and now" comparisons are possible. As we creep toward the fifth year anniversary (November), I’ve found myself making these types of comparisons — Tablets to Tablets, UMPCs, and other ultra-portable PCs — and all of these compared with my expectations, the way I work and live.

I have strong opinions about features that I like and dislike. Me? Opinions? he he Yep.

Free-style handwriting is my favorite and most used feature. The way that I work would be dramatically different without Microsoft OneNote. I’ve become the original sales target user, the corridor warrior. I walk into a meeting holding a Tablet PC in slate mode in the crook of my left arm, push my chair back from the conference table a foot or so, cross my legs and prop the Tablet PC on my knee and start writing — handwriting — meeting notes. The clickity clicks from people typing notes on keyboards have become annoying to me, as has the display propped up in front of someone’s face. I wonder, "Are they looking at email or listening to the topic at hand?" I admit, trust drops immediately. It shouldn’t. But it does. Look me in the eyes. The ironic part is that I used to scoff that it would even be an issue. It is.

Leave the conference room and I still use the Tablet PC in slate mode while checking a room number or walking down the hallway. So, when do I stop using the pen? On stairwells, of course. Seriously though, I know that my pen use decreases as soon as I dock the PC.

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I’ve learned to use docks in the last couple of years. Docks may be my least favorite of a mobile PC experience. I don’t care for pushing a button or pulling a lever to undock, nor the fact that the PC gets thicker and less movable. I would appreciate a dock more if I actually attached the Tablet PC to an external display while at a desk. Probably. I do like the fact that the power cable connects to the dock and I don’t have to unplug the adapter from the wall every time I leave the room. (It’s not safe to leave a power cord attached to an outlet and unconnected to the PC.) Get rid of the cables and decrease the size and I’ll be even happier.

Here are some more of my favorite Tablet PC innovations and uses:

The toggle on the HP Compaq TC1100. The TC1100 was a 10" slate with a snap on / swivel keypad to convert it to a traditional notebook form factor. It had a toggle that I used for page up / page down when reading, a pen with good weight distribution and the keyboard tucked away in a non-intrusive way.

Portrait mode on 7" display UMPCs for reading ebooks. Reading books my #1 UMPC activity. If you love reading paperbacks, portrait mode on a UMPC will probably make you happy. I can read for hours.

Improved power management. I use the little icon in the system tray every day, multiple times a day. I’ve tried creating profiles to automatically switch depending on conditions, but I revert to manual power management continually. Thank goodness for that little icon!

Power icon in system tray

This isn’t to say that I don’t want longer battery life or new improvements for power management. I do! There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in this area. However, I’m pleased with the change that has happened in the last five years. Before, an hour of battery life was fantastic. Two and a half hours came along and I was pleased. Now, five hours and I’m satisfied, but I want more from one battery. Give me all day. Then two years later multiple days.

Wifi. So much easier to configure in the last few years. Another, "thank goodness." Just like power management, it can get even better. My brother, Loren, brought this up the other day that though he’s pleased with the progress with Wifi, he wants seamless always connected. Automatic switching between available networks, whether it is Wifi or EVDO.

Touch. When walking down the hallway, it’s easier to pull up a meeting by using my finger than the pen. Touch is a simple form of navigation and I enjoy using it on the Tablet PC and UMPC.

True thin and light. Remember the NEC Versa LitePad? As we learned at the GottaBeMobile gathering a few weeks ago, no. Most of you are just now learning about this beautiful, light weight slate that was released February 2003.

NEC Versa LitePad

Motion Computing has accelerated the slate form factor far beyond what this NEC ever was, but the NEC offered a PC the size of a spiral notebook with style. Ahead of its time.

Performance. I am extremely pleased that I can get a full-performance notebook with Tablet PC features. I’m happy that the UMPC will run Windows. I’d like to see major push in mobility features at both the OS and app levels so I can do even more with a PC.

These are just a few examples of what moved the industry forward. What is the frontier today? Natural computing still has major steps needed for shape recognition, speech recognition, multiple touch points, scanning, environmental pulse or wave sensing, and other types of environmental adjustments. What have your favorite innovations been and what do you want to see tomorrow?

Maybe Rob, Warner, Matt or Hugo could put a poll up of the ideas.