Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tablet PC to Surface

If you know me then you know I have been a fan of the Tablet computing form factor for over 10 years. I started working with tablets in in 2001 and have built software for these devices for over 12 years.
I wrote a book to help developers to get started building software for the Tablet PC in 2002. It received a lot of attention in the little community of tablet PC enthusiasts that existed at the time and I ended up working with the Tablet PC team in Redmond for a few years.
This is the first convertible Tablet PC I owned, the Acer C100. It was a great little device and I wrote Getting Started with Tablet PC Development on this device. I also wrote most of eXtreme .NET using this Tablet.



Once I started working with the Tablet PC team at Microsoft I was able to get my hands on the Toshiba M200, pictured below. This was a amazing convertible table for its time and provided the main platform for my work with Tablet PCs for the first few months of my work.

I then discovered the joy of a pure slate tablet. The Sahara tablet from TabletKiosk that I next acquired was my primary mobile device for a couple of years. I still have it on my desk in my home office and it works great. It was a beautiful writing experience in a form factor that just made a lot of sense. The screen is approximately US letter (or A4) sized and applications such as OneNote are an absolute joy to use with the rich inking capability of the active stylus.

Then the hiatus began, In 2006 I got involved in other projects that required some different thinking, and while my heart was still longing for an amazing tablet experience, the hardware didn't keep up with what I needed to achieve on a tablet. My trusty Sahara kept going and I did get a Toshiba M400 that I used for a while. I found the combination of smartphone and laptop was doing enough for me. Smartphones had got smarter and acted as better mobile devices than a tablet and the laptop was my machine for getting 'real' work done.

Then in 2010 Apple unveiled the iPad, I saw the potential but was disappointed by the lack of stylus support.I still bought one and started filling in the gaps for some of the missing functionality I wanted.

The iPad is still really a companion device. It is not my full-time work device. Yet is is clearly possible for a tablet to be your full time work device. The new Sahara Tablet PC from TabletKiosk is an amazingly powerful PC, supporting touch and active stylus. This is more than powerful enough to do everything you can do on PC and work as a tablet. The screen is a decent size and it supports an external monitor for when you are at your desk.




I am sure you a now thinking about the new Surface product from Microsoft.
I bought the first generation Surface Pro device and found it painful to use, the screen is just a bit too small. I love the active stylus support but find that while Windows 8 has had the shell redesigned for touch I still need to spend a lot of time in Outlook, Excel and Word and these applications on the desktop are far from touch optimized. I am also not a fan of the keyboard.
In my opinion if a tablet requires a keyboard to make it useful it is not in fact a tablet at all, but some type of laptop.



Saying all that, I purchased a Surface 2 device earlier this week and have been using it for the last few days while attending meetings. It is light and much faster than the Surface RT. I also got a keyboard for the Surface 2, but I have thrown it away. I want a tablet, not a laptop. The keyboard experience is useless, and if I wanted to use a keyboard I would take a laptop to the meeting.

One of the main differences of using a tablet in a meeting vs. a laptop is the fact I can lay it down flat on the table. It then doesn't act as a physical barrier between me and my colleagues in the meeting. A slate laid down flat on the table will change the social dynamics of the meeting. It is clear to other people you are not hiding behind your screen but openly engaged in the meeting. This means I have not yet even used the kick stand on the Surface 2. I think it is possible I never will.

I will try to keep you updated with how I get on with the Surface 2. Right now I can see myself using it in certain circumstances and it will have a place in my work life for a while.





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