What IS a Tablet PC?

What is a Tablet PC?

Microsoft defined “Tablet PC” years ago, and I’ll spare you the technical details. I think the defining characteristics of a Tablet PC are shaped by what you as an individual do with it. It is a surprisingly personal device. It tends to defy conventional definition because it is so easily confused with other technologies from which it seems to have been derived.

Let’s get rid of some of the truths that get in the way of the definition.

The Tablet PC is:

  • A portable personal computer that:

    • Runs Windows XP Pro with Tablet PC “extensions”
      (ink, speech recognition)

    • Incorporates an active digitizer
      (allowing you to interact with the screen using a stylus)

  • A drawing device.

  • An electronic version of pen and paper.

There is nothing wrong with these statements, but they are certainly distracting and woefully inadequate. Take any one of them in isolation, and you give someone an excuse to dismiss the Tablet PC without further thought.

A Passion Uncommon

Something that I find intriguing is the fervor with which Tablet PC owners clutch these things to their hearts. The passion that these people have for their Tablet PCs is almost incomprehensible. You almost want to say, “Hey people! Get a life will you. It’s just a computer.”*, but to do so might  be an invitation to bodily harm or at least a barrage of vitriol worthy of an attack on motherhood.

Just one Web Site

If we look at one website (in the community it is just “the Buzz“), you will find a place where people are up at all hours of the day and night talking to each other about their Tablet PCs. We are talking about over 1.3  million page views per month – that is (1,300,000). That’s around 30 times a minute (every other second), someone is loading a page to read what someone else has to say about some aspect of the Tablet PC experience. At any given moment, if you are reading that site, chances are very good, someone else is reading it too. Even if you discount these numbers, remember this is only one web site. 

The Student Tablet PC Blog has recently celebrated 50,000 hits and looks poised to hit 100,000 sometime this week. Tracy and Trevor started that  blog barely 4 months ago.

But wait. There’s More!

I’m not counting the dozens if not hundreds of other sites, blogs, discussion groups and now PODcasts.  And let us not forget you gentle reader. What are you doing here?

Even if you are not a statistician or marketing analyst, doesn’t this seem a disproportionate amount of activity for a technology  a little over two years old, that has only recently celebrated the sale of the millionth unit?

Instant Gratification

For those who take pen to screen, there is an immediacy that a keyboard or mouse cannot not give you. There is instant reward without intermediation. This is another case of relatively transparent technology. (see: Transparency in another context)

Mastery earns respect (begrudgingly), and if it is easy it earns no respect at all.

We come to love and revile those among us who have mastered technologies.  “He’s really good with computers, but clueless when it comes to people”. We have almost come to expect that for something to be worthwhile, it has to be difficult to use. Sure we want it to be easy, but if it is too easy, how can we attribute value to the outcome.

How hard is it to pick up a pen? Evidently for some, not hard enough, and for millions more it is still too hard.



* loose paraphrase of a famous William Shatner quote

2 thoughts on “What IS a Tablet PC?

  1. Surely I’m not the only one, though, who’s noticed that Tablets are taking over in TVs and movies. Computers are always used on TV in hilariously unrealistic ways (my favorite part of computers in media is that, to this day, when words appear on the screen, the letters appear at 300 baud, making little chirping sounds as they arrive), and Tablet PCs allow characters to do these silly things without sitting at desks.

  2. What is a Tablet PC? Take a tool that can handle all computer tasks just like any desktop or laptop. Now couple that with a pen and ink interface that happens to mimic the very way we have been taught to work our entire lives! Writing, sketching and UI manipulation with the very tool with which we learned to write as a toddler. Throw in the natural creative process stimulation that comes with working with pen and ink and you have a Tablet PC. It’s just, well, natural.

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