Concept sketches – “The iPad killer” – The possible next phase for pen tablets – part three

Posted on February 15, 2010


What if this pen-tablet becomes intelligent and multi purpose?

This blog post is the third in a series of three. It shows the conceptual sketches towards a different concept of pen/touch tablets, crossing the border between tablets and netbooks and merging them into one device. The other posts can be found here and here.

The conceptual sketches in this post are made with the Dane-Elec zPen during my one hour and forty minutes flight from Schiphol Airpoirt (the Netherlands) to Pisa. It contains the musings I made thinking about the next stages of pen-tablets.

I start with the conclusion:

The “next generation pen tablet”

The basic concept of the “next generation pen tablet” has the following specifications:

  1. Can be used as a virtual keyboard and pen/touch tablet
  2. Usable as a display like the Cintiq- and Wacom PL tablets
  3. Usable as a stand-alone machine
  4. Offers possibilities for both hand-written and typed input
  5. Translates hand-written input directly into “clear text”
  6. Allows you to make freehand sketches as well as using tools like Freehand, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator
  7. Offers you different ways to translate your sketches to diagrams and layers in more sophisticated drawing tools
  8. Survives a fall on the ground without breaking the display
  9. Runs any OS of your choice

Possible directions

There is a possible split into the following directions:

  1. Using e-paper as a display.
    1. Allows you to work longer without having to recharge as the display is using less power
    2. Offers better readability in clear daylight
    3. Is bendable and more resistant to shocks and pressure
    4. High resulotion images
    5. Currently only black and white / with limited colors / limited visual experience
    6. Is currently only usable for static content
  2. Using LED / LCD as a display
    1. Offers full color images
    2. Better visual experience
    3. Usable for animated content and video
    4. Uses a lot of energy / limits the battery life
    5. Can break when you drop it on the floor

Connecting the tablet to your computer

  1. External device: “USB to computer” – there are at least two ports to connect your tablet to another machine. The tablet will be recognized as:
    1. An external pen/touch tablet
    2. An external storage device like a hard disk or memory stick
  2. Second display: “Video in – from computer” – when you plug the “video out” cable from another machine into the tablet, it will become a second display

USP’s found in the concept

  1. You can bend and drop the e-paper variant
  2. It operates both as a stand alone and as:
    1. External display
    2. External storage / hard drive
    3. Input-device / pen/touch tablet
    4. Virtual keyboard and sketchboard with display for any other computer

The conceptual sketches

Pen-tablets: Phases of development

The tablet

Stand alone. Video in / out, plenty of USB ports, allowing you to install and use anything you wish

  • The tablet runs on it’s own
  • It has pen- and multi-touch input on the display
  • It operates like any open computer system – in the sense that you can install anything on it you like.
  • When you attach the “Video in” port to the “video out” port of your computer, it will operate as a second display.
  • When you connect the “USB to computer” cable to your desktop or laptop, it will be recognized as an input device or external storage
  • It has audio- input and -output and a built in camera (one facing front and one facing back for AR purposes) as well

Using it as an touch/pen tablet with display

To a PC

Virtual keyboard: Apart from using it as a pen/touch tablet, you can also use it as a virtual keyboard. This keyboard can be in any shape, not limited by the boundaries of hardware.

Attach it to another tablet

Attach it to a laptop

Not limited as virtual keyboard: where the conceptual sketch shows a keyboard, the pen can be used for freehand drawing as well.

Combining a e-ink tablet (long battery life, maybe in 350 euro range) with a full color tablet (shorter battery life, maybe in 500 euro range)

The user can alternate: The user can alternate between the two. The additional advantage of the tablets ability to show images and function as a touch interface is that you can type on it. The experience is very much like phones with a touch screen, only in a proper size.

Handwriting to text

Handwriting can be translated into text as you write, making the integration with applications like a word processor more fluently.


When you can discard of the very sensitive LCD or LED displays, the Tablet becomes less sensitive to pressure, stress and shocks. One way to protect the insides (battery, electronics, drive) is to suspend them in such a way that they do not apply stress towards the other components.

The housing might be rubber (to get rid of the rigidness altogether and make it even more fun to hold)

The way to approach software

As described earlier in part two of this series, the way you can open and access applications on the desktop and laptop computers is not the most logical one. The following concepts describe a way to access software based on the iPhone and iPad way, but appliccable for PC, Mac OSX and Linux-machines.

Vertical areas

The workspace is vertically devided in 3 areas:

  1. Overview: giving you access to all your applications – logically arranged in functional groups like “office”, “creative work”, “drawing”, “brainstorming”
  2. Applications: the desktop you are used to working with now, showing you windows, allowing you to click on things and do stuff.
  3. Input items: like virtual keyboards, dials, sliders and anything you might need to do anything you want – from setting the brightness of your display to the volume of your playback, remote-controlling other devices in your surroundings and so on.

Horizontal slider area

Each of the three areas will very likely contain more items that can be shown at one time on your display. To access other items, you can slide the current screen sideways as if the elements are placed on a long tape.

To access applications already running, the alternative is to go back to the Overview and tap the application you want to access.

Not dependent on a new version of Windows, OSX or Linux / Ubuntu

The application as described here can be made with Flash as a front-end technology and a native runtimer running on the background in the machine. Communication between the Flash-front end can be done using Sockets or a bridge between the Flash application and the runtimer.


Sliding left and right to see other groups of applications

The image above shows the Overview with more items “left” and “right” to the visual area. By sliding your finger over the screen, you will make them visible.

Sliding the screen up

The image above shows the screen in a postions between the Overview and the Application view. It is likely that the Overview will slide away as an overlay and the Applications view remains static.

Adding applications

Based on software categories software can be automatically indexed different groups, but this is not necessarely how the user will do it. This image (above) shows how you can drag and drop applications into a group and order these groups to your liking.

Extending the machine

When you look at how USB ports in general are implemented, they do not allow you to keep your stuff plugged in. Turn this around: if you want to extend your machine with extra storage space – or even extra processing power, provided it would be doable – without openig the damned thing, docking would be the answer. The sketch above shows extra storage added in the shape of USB sticks.

Adding extra processing power

To extend the horse-power of the machine, extra processors / horse power could be added as external devices. Might sound weird now, but makes sense if your machine is going to be used for more than two years. Running towards a “more sustainable world” this could be one of the things to expect.

Pushing the envelope further

“The pancake”

This was actually one of my first conceptual sketches when I started the process. “Wouldn’t be cool if you could roll the tablet up and take it with you that way?”

Roll up one way, blocking and locking the other

Moving towards the concept of a more multi-purpose solution this one at first poses a new issue: “How do you use it as a tablet?” Yesterday night I found a conceptual mechanical solution: allowing you to fold the screen inward, but blocking and locking the moment you have folded it open.

Combining the “Pancake” with another tablet


What happened during the conceptualization and while shifting my view in the days before I made these sketches is this:

  1. Thinking about a “new pen / touch tablet” as it is now leads hardly to any new products or insights
  2. By moving outside of the box and adding / combining the stuff that is already there, something different evolves, taking away the so called “boundaries” between products.

Here are my own thoughts about the product as it grew:

  1. I would definitely buy it when it comes out-
  2. as it:
    1. Allows me to extend the possibilities of my current computer with something cool and relevant (touch / pen input with display)
    2. Runs stand alone so I can use it (instead of) a Netbook
    3. Offers anything a netbook offers PLUS the thing above
  3. when it:
    1. Costs around 500 euro
  4. I would buy a second tablet if I can connect them together, using one with e-Paper for when I am on the road and the other to do more sophisticated stuff, provided it offers me enough horse-power (and screen resolution) to fuel my needs as a heavy user.