Click here to print this article.

Re-Printed From SLCentral

Tablet PC: An Overview
Author: Harish Raju
Date Posted: December 11th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/articles/01/12/tabletpc

Introduction

Last November at Comdex 2000, during his keynote, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software architect Bill Gates talked and demonstrated some of the new toys Microsoft is working on. Among them, a Power Tool for the future...

The Tablet PC - Weighing less than three pounds and small enough to fit in one hand which possesses the full power to run all existing Windows-based software applications while at the same time incorporating the convenience and mobility of using pen and paper.

Microsoft Software Architect Bert Keely showed how the Tablet PC, which works with a pen-like stylus, not only transfers handwriting into electronic images but also recognizes handwritten revisions made in Office documents. Users can write on the Tablet PC screen as if it were a sheet of notebook paper and easily add comments to email, presentations or other documents. The written notes are captured as digital ink, so they can be sent along with the documents and stored or sorted without the need to re-enter data via a keyboard.

The audience applauded at the sight of Keely moving blocks of text within a document, adding handwritten edits to a sentence and highlighting sections in yellow merely by scrawling the stylus across the flat screen. The audience were promised new Prototypes and More Features in 2001.

Fast Forward to the Present. Giving his annual "state of the industry" keynote speech at this year's COMDEX Fall 2001, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software architect Bill Gates set out his vision for a "Digital Decade" that will revolutionize the way companies do business, and how people around the world communicate, learn and are entertained.

Unveiling prototypes of the new Tablet PC, Gates predicted that the Tablet would become the most popular form of PC within five years. Gates unveiled prototypes of the Tablet PC made by leading computer makers such as Acer Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Fujitsu PC Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems, and announced that these machines will go on sale in the second half of 2002.

"The PC took computing out of the back office and into everyone's office," said Gates. "The Tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available wherever you want it, which is why I'm already using a Tablet as my everyday computer. It's a PC that is virtually without limits -- and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

Big Words from a big man indeed...

The History of Computers has been pretty interesting. The Huge Monstrous Servers of the 50s and 60s gave way to the smaller room size Work Stations of the 70s and 80s. Desktops brought computing to the general media in the 80s and 90s. Notebooks and PDA's created wireless computing in the 90s and the 21st century. Now, the Tablet PC, a Hybrid of a wireless handheld and a full-featured Laptop.

Features Of The Tablet PC

Stylus/Pen Interfaces to Windows and other operating systems has been around for quite some time. But, unlike 'Pen Computers' where the user had to learn a cryptic sign language and a virtually nonexistent user interface, the Tablet PC, allows users to literally write on the screen in a variety of modes, capturing the "ink" as its own data type. Users can take notes using the Tablet PC's Journal utility; write e-mail in Outlook using "ink" instead of text; annotate Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and a variety of other documents; or read electronically.

Developments in the Key Foundational Technologies, including Longer Battery Life, Better Display Resolution and Cheap Memory has made this technology an affordable productivity tool.

Another Important aspect of the Tablet PC will be the User Interface. Microsoft hopes to build a complete user Experience rather than just a Pen/Stylus interface to the operating system. Microsoft hopes to optimize the Hardware, Software, Bios, as well as the interactions of all these elements from a Customer's Perspective.

The added component of wireless communications and infrastructure makes mobility a key element in all computing scenarios, with the Tablet PC providing new mobile functionality to corporate computing. Though not confirmed, the Tablet PC will feature a 802.11 RF Wireless Network Capabilities.

Chris Taylor of Time.Com did a test drive on one of the Acer Tablet PCs and he seemed to be satisfied with the User Interface of the Tablet PC but also suggested areas for improvement. The Journal Application is probably the most popular application right now. The Journal turns handwritten cursive or block letters into editable text very efficiently.

PC world talks about other Tablet PC applications, such as extensions to the Outlook e-mail and Windows Messenger instant messaging programs. The applications will accept and display handwritten text when you use a Tablet PC without a keyboard. Microsoft also plans to adapt Office XP to work with Tablet PCs. Other software developers are crafting Tablet PC products as well. Groove Networks, which makes Web-savvy collaboration software, has announced support for Microsoft's Tablet PC OS. (Microsoft

I believe that people will Accept the Tablet PC idea of the stylus as an interface. Although mainstream users may not abandon keyboards immediately, People are getting more comfortable with using a pen interface. Because of that and the growth in PDA use, the Tablet as a form factor is more accessible to people now than it would have been three or four years ago. For the concept to be successful, customers have to feel they're gaining functionality, not giving up functionality. They expect functionality comparable to what they get with a notebook or their desktop PC. The Tablet PC hopes to provide that level of performance, which is more than what people need in most mobile situations.

Tablet PC Specs

Microsoft and Their Partners have not released the exact specs of the Tablet PC but here is a preview of what to expect.

  • CPU: Low Powered CPU. Eg. Transmeta Crusoe Processor, Intel Mobile Pentium 3 / 4
  • Network: Wireless Connectivity through 802.11
  • RAM: Atleast 128 MB onboard
  • Input: Stylus Pen using Advanced Hand Writing Recognition Software
  • Weight: Around 3 to 5 lbs
  • OS: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
  • Applications: Adobe Systems, Corel Corporations, Groove Networks, Micriosoft Office, among others are developing customized applications like, Internet browsing, Email, Downloading MP3s, Playing games, and Multimedia audio/video, PIM apps (Calendar, Calculator, Note, Alarm Clock, Address Book, TODO List).
  • Availability: Second Half of 2002
  • Pricing: Priced Competitively along with Standard Full Function PC's.

List of Partners

Computer manufacturers: Acer Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Fujitsu PC Corp., Toshiba America Information Systems, FIC, NEC Corporation, PAD Products Inc., Tatung Company, ViewSonic Corp.
Application developers: Adobe Systems Incorporated, Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc., Amicore, Autodesk Inc., Corel Corporation, Groove Networks, LexisNexis, Zinio Systems Inc., Office XP, Visio®.
Microprocessor companies: Intel Corp. and Transmeta Corp , VIA Technologies Inc.
Component companies: FinePoint Innovations Inc., Phoenix Technologies, Silicon Motion Inc., Silver Cloud Manufacturing Co., Wacom Technology Co., ATI Technologies Inc., E-Pen InMotion Inc.
Design and Manufacturing: Flextronics Design.

Other Tablet PCs

AquaPad

The FIC AquaPAD is a compact, hand-held webpad intended for use in the home or in public areas. It offers the functions of Internet browsing, email, downloading MP3s, playing games, and multimedia audio/video, plus it includes a full suite of PIM apps (Calendar, Calculator, Note, Alarm Clock, Address Book, TODO List). User input is via touch panel and stylus. The device supports a choice of two operating systems: Midori Linux; and Windows CE.

Here is a summary of the AquaPAD's specs...

  • CPU -- 500 MHz Transmeta 5400 "Crusoe"
  • System memory -- 128MB SO-DIMM SDRAM
  • Nonvolatile memory -- 32MB internal CompactFlash
  • Size -- 10.8 x 6.6 x 1.1 in
  • Weight -- 2.2 lb
  • Input mechanism - Stylus and Touch Panel
  • Display -- 8.4-inch TFT LCD with 800x600 pixel resolution
  • Expansion interfaces: Type II PCMCIA (CardBus) slot, CompactFlash slot, two USB ports
  • Audio -- AC'97 Audio Codec, with headphone/MIC jacks and built-in 1W speaker
  • Power supply -- four Lithium batteries
  • Network -- An 802.11b wireless LAN card is supported in the PCMCIA slot, as are modules for GSM, GPRS, and Bluetooth.


WebPad

The Geode WebPAD SP3GX01 system is a form factor reference design for a portable web access device, utilizing National's Geode GX1 processor and the Geode CS5530A I/O companion device. The system consists of three pieces: the base station, cradle and tablet.

Base Station

The base station provides the connectivity between the tablet and the Internet. The base communicates with the tablet via a wireless connection and the Internet via a wired source (telephone line, ISDN, etc.). The WebPAD SP3GX01 system has been tested with two types of base stations. The first type is based on the 802.11 protocol. A number of companies currently offer these types of base stations. The second type is a base station using a DECT-based protocol. Currently, National

Semiconductor has a reference design for this type of base. Depending on the base station solution selected, a matching radio is used in the tablet.

Cradle

The cradle is used for drop-in charging and to hold the tablet for use as a more traditional desktop system. The cradle has pass through USB and auxiliary AC power.

Tablet

The 9.5 x 11.75 inch tablet has an interactive 10 inch DSTN screen (800 x 600) and weighs approximately 3 pounds. The tablet user interface is simple and easy to use. It consists of an interactive touch screen, scroll pad and several user-configurable buttons. Speakers and a microphone are built in. Additionally, several ports have been added to theside of the tablet to allow for connectivity to USB devices (i.e. external keyboard) and other types ofdevices such as headphones and an external microphone.

All buttons on the tablet including the scroll pad are user-configurable, except the power button. The user can change the definition of the buttons by entering the system configuration mode. To allow the user to input text, whether for an e-mail, search criteria, or to enter a URL, a software keypad is implemented. The keypad works the same as a normal keyboard ttached to any computer. The user touches the screen just above the desired key and the letter appears next to the cursor. The software keypad is invoked using the QNX menu button or the keypad icon on the task bar. The default of the upper user-definable button is a toggle for the software keypad.

Links And References

Tablet PC Home Page:

Microsoft Press Pass:
http://search.microsoft.com/us/corpinfo/press

Tablet PC Video
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/tabletpc/56k.wvx

Comdex 2001 Video
View the Tablet PC section of the Bill Gates keynote address from this year's Comdex.
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/tabletpc/ComSV56.wvx

Other Links
http://www.transmetazone.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=499
http://www.compaq.com/newsroom/presspaq/TabletPC/
http://www.transmeta.com/everywhere/products/appliances.html
http://www.time.com/time/personal/article/0,9171,1101011126-185017,00.html
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,70524,00.asp
http://www.pencomputing.com/PenWindows/

AquaPad
http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT2255681925.html

WebPad
http://www.national.com/appinfo/solutions/0,2062,216,00.html
http://www.national.com/appinfo/solutions/files/SP3GX01.pdf
http://www.national.com/appinfo/solutions/0,2062,386,00.html

Re-Printed From SLCentral