The possible next phase for pen tablets – part two

Posted on February 14, 2010


Different variations on a theme

The iLiad 1000 e-reader

The iPad

Fujitsu Stylistic tablet PC

enTourage-edge e-reader /Netbook

Asus Eee PC T91

Aiptect myNote

Wacom Cintiq


When I started thinking about the issues and possible scenarios addressed in this blog post, I was thinking about my creative processes and what I do, use, need and what expect from the tools I am using. The first thought was: “how would I improve a tool like the Wacom Tablet if I had the chance?” Going into more detail as I went through the different stages of sketching and shallow research (of which the images above are a summary) I started to merge the different elements into a “what if” and “why not?” solution.

Below you will find a break down of that process, on hind sight.

The merging of devices

We are entering a period in time where you can have a PC for 500 euro with Touch screen, pen input, enough processing power for all your basic needs, running for 9 hours without recharging. Going one level lower, e-readers (like the iLiad) running even longer as – once the page is updated – the system hardly has to do anything priced between 250 (beBook) and 700 euro (iLiad 1000).

Then for creative work you have the Wacom tablets like the Cintiq, priced from 900 euro.

The entourage edge (see video here – ignore the crappy acting and horrific “Entourage WoW!” voice over) is sold for 500 dollars.

When you look at the possibilities and specifications of all shown devices above, here is an overview:

  1. Using the screen as an pen-tablet for your computer – for better precision and control
  2. Reducing the PC to a single screen – to make it usable even when you have no table to work on
  3. Using the screen as a keyboard – to save space on your machine
  4. Using e-paper for reading and drawing – providing longer battery life, being readable in broad daylight and allowing you to make notes
  5. Combining e-paper with full color display – combining the benefits of e-paper with the benefits of a full color display
  6. Connecting peripheral devices like a keyboard, scanner, pen-tablet or mouse to do specific tasks

When you look at the apple iPhone and iPad, Apple almost pushed forward the following  paradigm shifts:

  1. Using a more natural / human way to access applications, using gestures
  2. Getting rid of the hardware keyboard as an input device

The reason why the iPad is sexy is not for it’s mind blowing features (from a geek point of view it has not). It is because now your mom and dad or granddad and grandma – who grew up before computers become commonplace – are offered a logical way to “do stuff” with their computer.

When you look at the current desktop software, for both Apple and Windows as being the “dominant” ones, you still need to make a translation between:

  1. What you want to do
  2. How to get that done

If I want to make a drawing, I have to start a program for that. If I want to make drawings using pixels, I have to start a different type of program then when I want to draw stuff using vectors, or using 3D. If I want to use that drawing in a text-document I am writing, I need to save that drawing first, to be able to load it in the text editor. Also, editing text, I have to make a choice between making a layout for a publication (using a Desktop Publishing System) or a document (using a word processor). I will get back on this in a separate post, as it entails a lot more than this specific post is aimed at.

Why a tablet PC will not be a threat for the iPad

Putting Windows or OSX on a tablet will not make the tablet “better” than the iPad, for the simple reason that the interaction model of those OS’es are based on lists and icons of items in a way that does not connect to the way we are used to do things in the world outside the PC. An iPad killer will be there when the user experiance of a machine and the software connects to our natural way of thinking and natural way of interacting with the world around us.

Use cases

The creative designer and the creative process

The creative designer in the context of this blog post can be anyone from a software designer to a graphic designer to a product designer, to a fashion designer to a painter or illustrator. In the creative process, the creative designer translates ideas to conceptual sketches to a clean and clear, finalized end result. Especially the first stages, the conceptualizing, the sketching, is usually done more effectively without the computer. For the last stage, the computer has gained more and more of a central position as it offers endless possibilities to refine, perfect and store different versions for different means of output (on screen, in print, as a physical product)

In most cases, the sketches are done on paper. In notebooks, on paper from the printer, the backsides of envelopes and so on. As I do not take the effort in most – if not all – case to scan that conent, it is “lost” in my secondary work-environment: the computer.

What I would like as a creative designer is this:

  1. A way to make sketches and conceptual drawings in such a way that it is automatically stored on my computer
  2. A way to take those conceptual drawings and use it immediately in whatever tool I use to transform it to a higher level of work
  3. A solution to do that anywhere without recharging for at least eight hours.

When I use diagrams in my conceptualization process: to visualize relationships between objects or concepts I would like to have

  1. A solution that can translate hand drawn diagrams to diagrams with semantic relationships (describing and containing the relationships between the objects I have drawn)

The writer and the creative process

The writer in the context of this blog post can be anyone using text as their main form of input: from programmers, to copywriters, to secretaries, to coaches and shrinks, to researchers writing their documents. Part of this writing process can be the drawing of the same kind of diagrams as described in “The creative designer” to sort out the writer’s thoughts.

When I am at home, a desktop computer suffices. When I am at a meeting, at a lecture or on the road, typing might not always be the best option. Hand writing might be more preferrable.

What I might like as a writer is this:

  1. A solution that allows me to write both with a pen and keyboard
  2. A solution that makes the typing and hand writing a seamless process (one way: by translating my handwriting to clear (“typed”) text)
  3. A solution which translates my diagrams to diagrams with semantic relationships

The content consumer

The content consumer in the context of this blog post can be anyone, from you and me to your parents, my children and anyone around you. The content can be books, articles, web pages, movies, images, illustrations, comics. The main process taking place is loading the content, displaying it on screen and scrolling or paging through it as you go.

What I might like as a consumer is this:

  1. A solution that allows me to consume my content anywhere, without the need to recharge for at least eight hours
  2. Fast internet access
  3. A machine that is optimized for this type of content

Zooming in on the creative designer

In the case of the creative designer the conflict between the two ways of working (conceptualizing with maximum freedom and finalizing with the best tools available) is the most extreem.

The work a creative designer does in the finalizing stage, in most cases, requires a lot of “number crunching” from the machine he or she is using. Any machine capable of running at least for eight hours can do that due to low power consumption. Heavy number crunching costs a lot of energy and drains the battery. It is not what current Netbooks are built for. (Specializing the internals by using specialized processors is one solution for that).

Going out into the field with your laptop, making conceptual sketches until the sun goes down and than return to home base and finalize the work is a nice but unrealistic dream at this point.


  1. Why is the Wacom Cintiq not equipped with a processor and a battery so that I can take my “sketching on a screen” outside as well?
  2. Why does a e-Book reader with a battery life of at least 20 hours and something like 1000 pages not allow me to install my own software as well, so that I can work on it like a normal computer and I can leave my Netbook at home? Think software like Open Office to begin with.
  3. Why can I not use my portable with touch-screen – like the iLiad e-book reader, Asus Eee PC T91, entourage-Edge or Fujitsu Stylistic as a pen-tablet with screen for my PC?

Inj the third post of this series I will continue this thought.