Thoughts on pen-computing in 2015

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Jamon, Nov 23, 2015.

  1. Jamon

    Jamon Scribbler - Standard Member

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    It's weird to have watched tablet PC culture grow into what it is today. It's like most people have lost sight of the tools, and got sucked up into the social aspects and fanaticism of iPad vs. Surface. Gone is much of the diversity and exploration of new machines, as the attention is mostly focused into the Surface instead of the "tablet PC". There's been many posters here lately who don't even have any interest in pen-computing, and many who act as if the only digital styluses that ever existed were from the Surface or iPad Pro.

    I haven't tested the Surface Pro 4 or iPad Pro yet, but recently I went to a store and tried the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. Based on what I've read here, I expected something magnificent. But it was immediately apparent that most people are blinded by marketing and herd mentality, because the technical performance of the stylus was garbage, and the hardware itself wasn't anything special. The display resolution was such low pixel density I saw blocks, which shouldn't happen on any device, let alone one everyone is praising as the flagship tablet PC today.

    It's also like people either forgot, or never really understood the advantages of Wacom EMR technology. It has some problems, and I'd hope that in 2015 there'd be something better by now. But it used to be common knowledge that N-trig was not an option in comparison. There were some improvements over the years, but people's reviews indicated that Microsoft made N-trig nearly as good. Yet, the difference between an old Wacom tablet and Surface Pro 3 is immediately apparent.

    Wacom EMR feels like what it is, an interactive electro-magnetic field. It's like on a staticky day, when you can move your hand and watch hair come alive, moving in response to subtle changes in position. It's very sensitive, where I usually have my pen elevated above the surface, and when I lower it I don't have to apply hardly any pressure, and it makes a mark almost as soon as there's contact.

    In comparison, N-trig has always felt blunted. If you use a large airbrush on a canvas, you see a wide cloud-like field; that's Wacom EMR. If you then use a hard eraser, and delete most of that fuzziness, leaving mostly only a hard little circle, that's N-trig. You can't magically get a response from proximity, you have to press, and make intentional marks. It feels like a dried up BIC pen in comparison.

    Then the Surface had its own oddities, with the cursor trailing behind, that made it not just seem not as good, but ridiculous for a final product, especially one people were using to showcase pen-computing. Have you all lost your minds? Almost a decade ago my tablet PC pen was productive for me, where I fully utilized all it had to offer, such as silo, tether, eraser, replaceable tips, and dual buttons. That button part is important. I custom assigned my buttons to do things, like be right-click, and double-click, so I could hover over the screen, and click without ever making contact.

    Ever since the new "tablet", the kind with Android or iOS, it's like there's been a reset on knowledge and experience in this area. Everyone forgot what it is, or they never knew to begin with, and the conversation shifted to mostly be about the Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft subcultures. Personally, the reasons why I've been using pens for computing for well over a decade, is because it helps me with my PC work. If others were using their computers similarly, I don't know why they'd be even considering tools that are crippled compared to ones from years ago.

    In a way, it's like the tablet is more alive than ever. But in another, it's mostly dead and ignored in the corner, as everyone chases something that to me has nothing to do with actual productivity. This has affected the previous tablet PC manufacturers and influenced the hardware designs. It's strange how there's so many portable machines now, and yet it seems harder than ever to actually find one that works.
     
  2. zenpilgrim

    zenpilgrim Pen Pal - Newbie

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    While my experience with the Pro 3 is nothing like you describe, I do feel that the tablet is not living up to the visions I and others had of the future back in the 90's when I was running a Gridpad, and HP or Fujitsu tablets running Windows. No matter what the MS commercials try to tell us about Surfaces being productivity and business tools, the tablet world is currently designed for and controlled by fast and easy media consumption (what I see as a misdirection of Steve Jobs vision). I do think the Surface Pros and the iPad Pro are attempts to try and redirect the the work to one of making us more productive while still being entertaining but I am not sure that that fence can easily be straddled.
     
  3. tarc

    tarc Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Interesting thoughts.

    I agree about the regression of stylus quality, it appears to be a sacrifice to the thinness altar.

    Personally, It's widescreen formats and cheap screens that been bugging me for a while. That's an issue that appears to been addressed by the surface pro and Ipad pro.

    The Surface pro 3 have been review as "one of the very best and most accurate displays available on any mobile platform and OS"
    http://www.displaymate.com/Surface_Pro_ShootOut_1.htm

    What's still lacking for me is a scalable UI in the OS, and applications.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
  4. Marty

    Marty Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    This mirrors in many ways the transition from analog cameras to DSLR in professional photography (and then more recently to cell phone cameras). With each step you trade technical knowledge and advanced technique for wider accessibility from a simplified form-factor and UI.

    Is this a benefit or detriment to the industry as whole?

    In my view, the answer is moot. New trends shift the course of tech evolution, but do not stop it's inevitable advancement:

    Ipads introduced a new form factor and UI--this triggered an abrupt change in the course of tablet PCs from 2010-2015, until eventually OEMs realized that pen-based computing is necessary for detailed work, hence the move back to SP and IPP lines. Now we have renewed efforts with the Universal Stylus Initiative and active development by Wacom, MS and Apple in improving (capacitive) digitizer tech...

    Shifting course, but still moving forward...
     
  5. WillAdams

    WillAdams Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    We also need to get back to an acceptance of the need for daylight-viewable displays which have a more elegant solution than trying to out-shine the sun.
     
  6. Jamon

    Jamon Scribbler - Standard Member

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    It was the PC era, and the portable machines were aligned with a different subculture's value system, targeting the goals of tech enthusiasts. Then that shifted to the phone era, and the portable machines are now targeting the larger consumer market. That's great, except that in the process the previous manufacturers catering to the PC-user's needs have slowed down or stopped, getting mixed up not knowing which market to target, resulting in crippled tools missing the point of both use-cases.

    I have a reflective slate from Fujitsu that I've used in direct sunlight. It wasn't perfect, but it was pushing the boundaries of tech aimed at solving a specific problem, and it semi-worked. That enabled me to move from my dark dungeon out into the bright summer sun, and still program.

    I also have a transflective pocket PC, the OQO, which also partially worked in direct sunlight, and fit in the palm of my hand. I dual-booted Linux, and it has a slide out keyboard. Again, it was pushing the boundaries, and it had problems, but it semi-worked for things nothing else would allow.

    There used to be exciting new developments like this each year. Just like before that there were exciting new substantial gains in CPU/GPU power in the desktop, the mobile-PC era was producing amazing new gadgets for PC people. You could install Windows tablet-edition, and Adobe Photoshop if you wanted, without having to have a subscription, or Microsoft's online services. The machines were aiming to be powerful, and with the same abilities as the PC, like being able to easily install other operating systems, and offline software for things like speech recognition.

    But I remember when Fujitsu stopped innovating down that path, and their Stylistic series suddenly started losing power, getting smaller, less like a PC, and more like an appliance. The offerings began to dry out, as everyone chased this new demographic rooted in the mainstream consumerist market. They wouldn't put up with a reflective slate, because they didn't understand the technology, and how to use it correctly, that it would not work as well as a transmissive display indoors, so they complained. This whiny "customer is always right" crowd is who they focused on pampering, and the forgiving curious nerds were left stranded without a date for the prom.

    They used to be king of the PC time. But now, the normal world fully merged, and the manufacturers respond.

    Samsung was off producing amazing new technological developments in hardware for systems that were locked, using proprietary methods that were incompatible with the PC-way. My Galaxy Note was awesome machinery. It was way better than the OQO in so many ways. Yet, it was a nightmare trying to use like a PC. I couldn't just install something, like Windows or Linux, it was a locked appliance. Eventually I tried compiling my own Android distro for it, and installed Gentoo Linux and others in chroot. I put a lot of time and effort trying to force it to be a pocket PC, but in the end, I gave up, because it kept fighting me every step of the way, and each newer version of the hardware was losing step with my goals. Now the latest Galaxy Note doesn't even allow an internal microSD card.

    Where were the x86 AMOLED slates from Samsung? They had this amazing tech, and they were limiting it exclusively to the consumption market. It's possible to create with these machines, but without typical BIOS you can't install Windows if you want, and mobile development is not aiming at creating tools for people from the PC world.

    Where were the E Ink displays, with a PC slate body? There would be compromises, but it's long been possible to create a fully sun-readable machine like that. The Sony Digital Paper is a start, but again, it's locked down in appliance mode. If we were pushing the boundaries in those directions, by now we'd have something more workable for those uses. The experimentation stopped, or slowed, in part to produce a million different cheap disposable Android tablets, so people can play games while they defecate, and Google can track everyone all the time.

    Where is my double-sided 6" slate, with AMOLED on one side, and E Ink on the other, so I can use my Twiddler to type, and then slide it in my pocket. Why can't it run Windows 10, and FreeBSD with ZFS on the bootable microSD card. Why aren't microSD cards bootable, and an old OQO can have an unlocked typical BIOS, with full USB port, but today's more powerful devices can't do anything similar?

    There are so many possibilities that could happen, but aren't. It was a lucky moment, when there was crossover between the business class who had money, and the techy individual who wanted to explore the digital realm using interesting new interfaces. That overlap wasn't by design. Once there was money elsewhere, and more of the previous uses covered by internet appliances, plenty of businesses could switch to iPads, leaving no one to build the Frankenstein mobile PC gadgetry that once was.

    I'm back to using a stationary workstation. I still have my tablets for using in between, but I'm no longer working outside primarily. It's dark, and I'm in my little cage where all I see is a large light shining into my eyes, as I type away like it's the '80s. I'll play with more hacks. The Sony Digital Paper was missing some critical features, but there'll be accidental devices, where I can use some unintended trick to make it a remote display for the workstation, and pretend by going out back using WiFi. But these developments are slow, because the manufacturers aren't focused on this anymore, and it's not the same. Instead of an elegant self-contained unit, if you want to build something yourself you'll have components weighing down your pockets, and wires dangling as you try to make it work.

    There's a mysterious new Samsung device, that one might dream as being a 13" UHD AMOLED with Wacom EMR, fanless Core M, so at least someone can have a nice dedicated canvas and notepad for indoor use. It'd at least be a start, since it wouldn't be locked down to Android. But I won't be surprised if it turns out to be a 13" phone, with the new TouchWiz, and a promise of soon-to-be outdated version of Android with bugs and security vulnerabilities they'll never patch.

    I like phones and appliances. There's a use for that. I'd consider purchasing an iPad Pro if there's an advantage for a certain application, like if the Pencil were superior technology for an art tablet. But a world with only iPads isn't very nice. When you can't develop appliance apps on the appliance itself, and producing for that system requires online dependence to a gatekeeper who grants permission for people to run your program, it significantly limits the types of possibilities. It's much easier to stick with the desktop, where there are more options and alternatives.

    Sadly, even the desktop is dwindling though. I'm using a Wacom Intuos from 2011, because it has a 12" x 19" active area. They don't make that size anymore, so to get the newest tech I'd downgrade to 8" x 12". I recently spent almost $3K on a desktop display, and it's less PPI and in some ways worse looking than my $300 tablet.

    There's lots of steps backwards depending on your perspective. Many years ago people were writing with fluid-feeling Wacom on their Windows tablet using built-in handwriting recognition, with software that indexed for textual search... all while offline. It took a while for Android to start getting similar technology, but it still isn't the same. I doubt on the iPad Pro there's system-wide support for the pen with gestures and handwriting recognition for all inputs. I tried using the new OneNote app from Microsoft, and it wouldn't even work offline without being attached to an online identity. The company who built their fortune on the PC way have split into the online services appliance realm, and it's not even an option anymore to use the modern app like the old one. I tried opening the email app on my Windows 8+ tablet, and it also required a Microsoft account.

    An unfortunate side-effect of all this is the loss of individual control and autonomy. Having an internet appliance ecosystem, with monopolistic service providers, is fine, if it's an option. But when even Microsoft moves towards that, and their Surface transforms from a cutting edge 30" touchscreen tabletop PC, to something more limited in hardware than many offerings of the past, with modern software that won't let me simply access an IMAP mail server without going through Microsoft online services, it's becoming a less hospitable place for oldtimer PC folk.
     
  7. Kumabjorn

    Kumabjorn ***** is back Senior Member

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    Finally I understand why all the banner commercials I see are either Samsung Gear VR or toilet paper.

    Twitter is to communications as haiku is to literature.
     
  8. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Pen Pro - Senior Member Senior Member

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    It's always been a case of sit and watch and hope.

    And yes, there has been lots of backslide in terms of development in areas I would have liked to have seen. eInk is really cool, and I am disappointed that it has been dropped so heavily. I was hoping for full-colour reflective displays with super-fast response times to be available.., around now, actually.

    PixelQi was going in the right direction. But it died.

    But things are not all that bad. Five years ago, there was Wacom or nothing, and Tablet PCs were stagnating. Now there are a lot of options, more than I would have predicted, with a lot of new ones on the horizon.

    I sent an email to Anoto the other day asking them to please consider developing their stylus toward a thinner, less awkward design. (Anoto developed the stylus tech for that huge, 21" Panasonic Toughpad). They responded quickly and briefly, but were extremely polite and positive regarding my comments. I've never heard back in such a way from.., anybody in the industry before.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what HP produces with their tech. I think they could be a really exciting new player, and I hope there's some overlap with my interests as an illustrator.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
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  9. Marty

    Marty Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    While, you're correct in pointing out the trend towards consumer-oriented devices, I think you are being too pessimistic in your outlook. The Surface Pro line was a direct response to exactly the limitations you are railing against with consumer tablets.

    The industry takes time to evolve.

    Ipads introduced the modern tablet for factor in 2010 and the market took about 5 years to used to it's basic functionality. Now that the baseline tablet has essentially become a $200 disposable device, OEMs (MS, Apple, Samsung) have shifted towards developing their "Pro" line devices--ie. more expensive, more capable tablets.

    Again, this mirrors the advent of digital consumer cameras. A lot of camera buffs decried the OEM focus on cheap compact travel cameras (when they became the rage), at the expense of their established professional DSLR lines.

    It was not the death of digital photography though--the fad passed (being largely supplanted by cellphone cameras) and DSLRs are now again being developed for the niche photographer audience. However, modern DSLR cameras take design cues (in form factor and interface) from the popularized consumer product.

    The parallels how modern tablet PCs take design cues from the mobile tablets, essentially taking the best parts of the mobile revolution and combining them with the productivity of the old (fat) tablet PC era. This isn't an either/or scenario--it's trends in the evolution of technology.

    Manufacturers typically capitalize on popular trends (which unfortunately for us, means catering to a non-technical audience) but that does not mean they forget entirely about their original product lines. But keep in mind, each iteration takes years (and OEMs often get it wrong on their first few tries).

    Even so, you can already see the germs of advancement: the trend towards 12-13 (non-16:9) screen sizes for productivity; the emphasis on having a stylus; the Universal Stylus Initiative.

    Have patience, the "true" productivity tablet is just beginning its life-cycle in our crazy, fad-driven tech world. ;)
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
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  10. Jamon

    Jamon Scribbler - Standard Member

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    That is the main theme of my post, not the death of the tablet PC, so much as the strangeness that I don't hear that same decry as was sung loud in the photography circles.

    It's been mostly Surface this and iPad that, with irrational praise, and nobody criticizing or expressing their unfulfilled wishes in any serious way.

    The Surface Pro 4 threads were really bizarre, because it started with anticipation, then the frenzy of release, and suddenly tons of reports of problems. But rather than the ordinary response of people heeding the warnings, and sitting out until things are resolved, the excitement continued as more people chimed in that they succumbed to purchase... and they had the same problems too.

    They're running off cliffs with smiles.

    It's the same kind of insanity that was common with Apple products, especially in previous years when they were even more cult-like than today.

    The skepticism and critique of digital photography continued throughout the transition, and I imagine helped guide and push some manufacturers to provide for their vocal demand.

    That's not what I see here, and that is what's bizarre to me, because I'm not content. The Surface 3 wasn't even an option I could consider because it fell so short from my wishlist. Yet, it's like a majority of people only have eyes capable of seeing 3 options, an iPad, Galaxy, or Surface, and somehow nobody is challenging that and pointing out the obvious undeserved fanatical adulation that Microsoft has cultivated recently.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the forums I've seen this in have had paid marketers intentionally pushing people towards this uncritical excitement for the Surface, just as the product appears in television all the time.

    This forum used to have people analyzing the technology in a more neutral way. Somewhere during that transition from the tablet PC being a generic device, to becoming Microsoft only, I stopped seeing very much mention of important things to me like "IAF", the initial activation force. People aren't saying, "The Surface pen has really improved, but if you're sensitive about things like IAF, it's not really an option as a primary device". It's just, "Oooh, Surface! The pen is awesome!"

    People aren't talking about the "TIP" anymore, and what's new since the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition days. They're not complaining if Microsoft hasn't tweaked it to their liking, where it automatically opens whenever they tap any input box, or that they haven't added an option to be able to just write in the area and have it automatically start accepting handwritten input, coming up with ideas and vocalizing a demand. I didn't even hear anybody complain that OneNote in the modern Windows 8 wouldn't work without a Microsoft account. Lots of things I notice, I don't hear other people talking about. There's little things here and there, like when there was no control panel for adjusting the Surface pen. But overall, it's too quiet.

    People here were always leaning towards being Microsoft fanboys, with their excessive worship of OneNote as the answer to all their prayers, never criticizing all the problems it had. But since the Surface began improving, they've obviously fallen head over heels into some Apple-like obsession.

    This is a review site, and I want to see more reviewing, and less circlejerking.

    There's more neutrality in the threads about non-Apple/Microsoft products. But they're somewhat drowned out and slow, as everything ends up compared to the Surface, and the non-technological force people feel radiating from it.

    I'm going to check out the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 eventually, and maybe they're great and I'll buy both. But when the demand for more unique gadgetry goes quiet, there's less motivation for anyone to build a supply. I'll shout when I can, and hopefully others will too, that the white-bread products don't fulfill me. Even if I have an iPad/Surface, I want those OQOs, and Stylistic ST5111s of the world.

    [​IMG]

    This thing worked in full direct sunlight.

    [​IMG]
    The fingerprint reader in 2006 was cutting edge. But besides 2 full-sized USB ports, and ethernet jack built-in, those buttons were really useful. It's foolish to be swiping your hand all day, when you can rest it and softly press a finger to page up and down. That is how you get work done. That and a pen, with buttons.

    [​IMG]

    And silo you can tuck it in, and tether so it doesn't get lost. The batteries were replaceable without a screwdriver, just push a lever. Same with RAM, and HDD. I put an SSD in mine, and disconnected the fan so it was silent.

    Where are the Windows 10 devices under 8"?

    [​IMG]
    In 4 years of development, does the Surface blow the ASUS EP121 out of the water?

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    All I'm saying is, there used to be more talk about powerful new gadgets.

    [​IMG]

    I did a search on this forum for Notion Ink Cain, and I didn't even see a single mention.

    [​IMG]

    Okay, maybe the pen sucks, and it's too slow. But, not even a mention? No discussion?

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I think it's because everyone is busy gushing over the Surface.

    The big brand names make people lazy and blind. If it's not on the Apple TV, it doesn't exist in their bubble. You're becoming the same way with Microsoft.

    When really, the Surface is boring. It might be worth owning, in the same way an iPad is worth owning, as yet another tool for a general purpose. But it's just jeans and a tshirt, or slacks and a dress shirt.

    That's lame; show me something crazy.

    [​IMG]
     
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