Adventures in Tablet’ing

Continuing a theme from recent weeks, I thought I’d share my personal experience using a tablet computer when I read an article in the NY Times yesterday entitled “Just a Touch Away, the Elusive Tablet PC.

Just like with the Netbook and Kindle – both of which I have owned, albeit briefly – I’m a tablet owner, although in this case a long-time one. I first purchased a tablet in 2003. It was a 1st generation Motion Computing flagship product. My business partner at the time and I bought two of them because we thought that the pen-based tablet form factor would be novel and prove efficient in our work, providing high-end usability studies for clients’ software and hardware products.

While there were a number of tablets to choose from and Motion’s model wasn’t the cheapest, David Altounian, one of the co-founders of Motion Computing, is a friend and we felt good about buying the technology from and supporting an Austin-based start-up. We were excited when the units arrived and immediately started to plot how to apply them to our work.

Motion Computing tabletHowever, it never really happened. Although they were among the lightest of the pack, in terms of their weight vs. power, the tablets were heavy and cumbersome to carry around by hand. And without ready-to-go forms for us to use for our note-taking, it was laborious taking hand-written notes, ladened with the usual hand-writing errors that were laborious to go back and correct.

Of course, we could capture free-style notes “as is” using a scratch pad program. But that proved impractical, since the majority of our work required that source material be readily available in word processing form so that we could incorporate the data into final reports. Instead, the tablets pretty quickly became premium-priced laptops.

Nonetheless, when I left the firm after a couple years, I bought out one of the tablets and took it with me for the pure convenience of avoiding having to transfer all of my business and personal data to another computer and go through learning a new system’s set-up. But, in personal use, rather than a laptop, the tablet fairly quickly became a home-based, back-up desktop PC.

Why? Some of the reasons are outlined in a follow-up BITS blog post that the Times also published entitled “Why Have Tablets Flopped?” But, my #1 reason, is usability: as a free-standing category, the device is simply lacks the usability of most people seek from their work or personal technlogy devices every day.

I agree with the line of thinking that being able to effortlessly switch from operating your laptop to a tablet and back is really just a feature (perhaps modestly premium-priced) of future laptop-sized, form factor PCs. In the meantime, as with any new technology, try before you buy!