The Second Coming of the Tablet PC

Ever since Apple announced the iPad, its been "Tablet this, tablet that", and people have been jumping up and down saying that this is the best thing since sliced bread, and totally new and innovative to boot. (I suspect that these are the same people who, when Microsoft kick-started the whole TabletPC initiative about a decade or so ago, insisted that Apple had invented it back then too, and it was called the Newton. Revisionist fan-boi history much? I think so).

What amazes me this time though is that On The Media, a radio show which comes out of WNYC (also home to the rather awesome science show RadioLab) were going gaga about this being the first instance of the "Fifth Screen" that tech geeks have been salivating over for centuries.

The screens go like this:

  1. Movie screens
  2. Television screens
  3. PC screens
  4. Cellphone screens
  5. Some kind of intermediate not-quite-a-screen which, like the One Ring, will in the darkness bind them.

(The similarities to the One Ring don't stop quite there... I'm willing to bet that most of the first people to buy the iPad will indeed look a lot like Gollum, only wearing Armani suits).

What amazes me is that this is totally revisionist history. The TabletPC came in several versions, including convertibles which had keyboards and a screen on a pivot that you could fold back over to sketch on. Like, for example, the rather splendid Toshiba Portege M200 which I once had. Unfortunately, Toshiba haven't seen fit to release one with as high a screen resolution as that wonderful little machine, or as good a GPU since - which means that no matter what kind of Tablets they're selling now, I won't be buying one... goddamn Intel Integrated Graphics... grrr.

The other versions are in what is known as Slate format - like Fujitsu's Stylistic ST6012 Tablet PC.

Woah. Wait a minute. This looks like an iPad.

And yes, it does look like an iPad. Except it has an active pen input (using RF sensors, basically) so that you can sketch high fidelity sketches on it. Or write by hand and enter all of your stuff into OneNote, where text recognition will kick in automatically and let you search your handwritten notes.

The iPad, as it happens, does not support handwriting. This should not be a surprise, as its multi-touch display really isn't designed with high enough fidelity for it. Sure, you might be able to get away with using your own nylon stylus on it (maybe steal one from a DS), but it's not going to be a high end user experience.

So yes, the iPad is not the first attempt at being the "5th screen" (heck, not even the Mira was that). Slate form-factor TabletPCs existed a LONG time ago. And they're much much more useful. If Toshiba would deign to release something akin to the M200 again, with dual core CPUs and a nice fast GPU, I'd happily consider buying one.

That's why half of my notes in OneNote from a few years ago are all handwritten. Because Tablet PCs are awesome in meetings.

End rant. Apple didn't invent this. And what they've got doesn't even measure up to what was out there a decade ago. More marketing flim-flap and frip-frappery. But hey, at least it's stylish.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

Archived Wordpress comments
shadowphiar wrote on Monday, February 8, 2010:

Fujitsu's Stylistic ST6012 Tablet PC looks like an iPad?

Superficially, perhaps. But it's more than twice as thick and it's more than twice as heavy. Write that off as mere style and frippery if you like, but I think it will count towards practicality if you have to hold the thing up in order to use it.

Simon Cooke wrote on Monday, February 8, 2010:

Yeah, but the ST6012 came out two years ago, so there's a bit of tech lag there.

I'm not saying that the ST6012 looks like an iPad. I'm saying that the iPad looks like a lighter, much less functional version of an ST6012.

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