Lenovo’s SimpleTap Not Simple

I’m continuing to plug away on my new work computer, a Lenovo X220T Tablet PC. I’m thoroughly enjoying this tablet, which I’ll continue to share more about later. The X220T features a Wacom capacitive touch and active digitizer. As most folks know, Windows 7 isn’t the most touch friendly OS in the world, so Lenovo tried to help them out a bit by including a touch friendly program launcher called SimpleTap.

The interface is easily kicked off by touching a round icon that stays hidden on the side of screen. The SimpleTap icon can easily be moved to any side of the screen by simply holding down the icon and dragging it. After pressing the SimpleTap icon, a screen of commonly used utilities pops up: volume control, screen brightness, camera control, rotation, and more. The icons can be easily moved around, as well as quickly reorganized into a grid. In addition to these included touch friendly icons, existing programs like OneNote, Word, Evernote, etc can be added. It is clear that Lenovo spent a great deal of effort designing this new launcher utility as many of the controls are designed for touch, but they stopped about 40% through the effort. Instead of improving the touch functionality of Windows 7, they highlighted just how bad it is by sticking with the traditional Windows forms approach which results in difficult to scroll lists, small target areas for choosing programs, traditional drop downs, and more. It feels like a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde approach to user interface design. Checkout the gallery of screenshots below.

This is why Microsoft and their partners continue to get hammered on the user experience front. During a time when the battle for eyeballs and fingers couldn’t be more intense, I expected Lenovo to finish the job – not highlight their deficiencies.

 

My Lenovo X220T Tablet Arrives, Awesomeness Abounds

I’ve been waiting for this day a long time…my brand-spanking new Lenovo X220T Tablet PC arrived today and it is everything I hoped it would be.

Here are some quick specs:

1) Core i5 2.5 ghz processor, 4gb ram, 64 bit, Windows 7 Pro

2) 300 gb 7200 rpm hard drive

3) Wacom capacitive touch and ink digitizer

4) 1366 x 768 resolution

5) docking station

Specs are great, but the true test of a touch-enabled tablet pc is how it handles inking while resting your hand on the screen.  Put simply, the Lenovo X220T Tablet PC is pure awesomeness: no vectoring, no accidental icon presses,  no stray ink marks, the pen was quiet, and the ink was as smooth as silk. The only way I knew the X220T had a touch screen was when I chose to touch the screen…imagine that! Kudos to Lenovo, Wacom, and Microsoft for getting this right. I couldn’t be more pleased with the inking experience.

I do have a bone to pick with Lenovo, though. I ordered an UltraBase docking station and it was missing two things I consider critical to docking solutions: 1) a power cord, 2) a Display Port adapter so I could plug in my DVI-based monitor – the port is there, but I can’t use it without an adapter. It would have been great for Lenovo to specify on the ordering page that the UltraBase did not come with either and give the buyer an opportunity to order them. Fortunately I have a few extra Lenovo power cords laying around, but I need to run out to BestBuy and get that DisplayPort adapter.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks while I put this X220T Tablet PC to the test. I’ll share more in a detailed review, maybe post some a few videos, and who knows what else.

I’ve got a new Tablet PC. It is all mine. And I’m very happy!

Otto Berkes Leaving Microsoft

Otto Berkes, the man behind Microsoft’s Origami and Ultra Mobile PC, is leaving Microsoft. Berkes had the vision and knew where mobile computing was headed long before the iPad came on to the scene. As we all know now, Apple executed on it ways Microsoft could not.

Todd Bishop interviewed Berkes today and asked him his thoughts on the iPad:

“It’s been bittersweet,” he said. “It certainly validated the notion of having a truly touch-centric, connected computing device, but I obviously wish that Microsoft had gotten there first. … The concepts were certainly all there, but the investment level required and the clarity of focus on that class of product was not what it needed to be to achieve the kind of commercial success that Apple has achieved with the iPad.”

Windows 8 Tablet UI and Expectations

If the rumors are right, next week will be critical for Microsoft. Expectations are that Windows head Steven Sinofsky will demo the tablet UI for Windows 8 at next week’s AllThingsD conference. Experience tells me that the final decision to actually demo the UI probably won’t be made until that day, so who knows what will actually be shown.

The stakes could not be higher for Microsoft. If they don’t hit it out of the ballpark, I’m thinking it is game over for Microsoft in the tablet space; and, yes,  I’m including the tablet pc in that broad brush stroke. Encroachment on the inking use case is already happening. Microsoft defined the tablet space back in the early 2000′s, let it languish, then the space got redefined and stolen from them when iPad 1 came out. With Apple now setting the standard, Android coming on strong with the Flyer and Honeycomb, and HP coming with all guns blazing this summer with webOS, Microsoft is under a full-fledged attack for both the consumer and business dollar with regards to tablets.

If Microsoft does indeed unveil the Windows 8 tablet UI next week, here is what I’m expecting / hoping Microsoft will show:

  • the UI will carry forward much of the Windows Phone 7 touch experience. Gone will be the Start / Programs, traditional interface. This won’t just be an Origami skin running on top of Windows. It will be a whole different way to use Windows.
  • Microsoft loves the “code once, deploy everywhere” mantra. Windows Phone 7 apps will run in Windows 8.
  • Support for existing Windows applications is paramount to their success in the enterprise, so a full Windows experience will be accessible via some type of switching function to have the traditional Windows shell easily accessible.
  • The primary demonstration will be around touch, but the inking interface is going to be retooled and probably shown. This is a huge difference-maker for Microsoft and they have a ton of money invested in it. It’d be great for a palette type of metaphor for inking and annotation to be present throughout the Tablet UI.
  • Ink annotation on top of Amazon Kindle’s windows app.
  • All of this running on an ARM architecture with battery life and instant-on being demonstrated. That will be the optimal tablet experience, but of course, it will also run on an x86 architecture.
  • The emphasis will be on slates, but a hybrid solution could also be shown to appeal to the business user.
  • Microsoft will prove that they do indeed know how to design and innovate

So, a totally retooled touch interface that gets the traditional Windows totally out of the way; differentiators being a Windows Phone 7 type of UI, Windows Phone 7 apps running within Windows 8 (huge market capitalization to encourage Windows Phone development), ink being touted (yet again) as another differentiator from their competitors, and full-functionality for existing Windows applications. The attraction for the enterprise IT manager: no sacrifice of existing infrastructure and software, an experience people will want to use at home and work, and no “which device do I bring” dilemma.

That’s what I expect Microsoft to show the world if they indeed have plans to show us. They need to give the world a reason to believe in them again. Let’s hope they exceed my expectations and totally blow us all away.

What do you hope / expect Microsoft to demonstrate?

Tablets and Healthcare

InformationWeek has a great article on tablet usage in the healthcare enterprise. It highlights a common theme I’ve expressed on this blog already that is affecting the workplace: doctors bringing personal devices into the hospital and back home, and the benefits it offers them to provide immediate care. This benefit also brings along several concerns: security, disinfection, and access to non-Windows programs.

Despite all the benefits, many hospital and healthcare technologists are still trying to sort out where the iPad and other mobile devices fit into their medical bags. Ensuring information security and protecting patient privacy both loom large in the context of devices that can easily walk out the door. If it’s a doctor’s personal device, rather than hospital property, it’s going to exit at the end of every shift. While that lets the doctor quickly look up medical records when called at home or at a restaurant, it also opens up the possibility that the device will be left behind on a restaurant table.

Mobile device security is relatively easy to deal with. Strict password policies and the ability to remotely wipe the memory of a device that’s lost or stolen can alleviate most security concerns. But other issues are challenging the widespread use of mobile devices in medical settings, including the lack of native support for many non-Windows devices, the inability to disinfect many mobile devices, and device overload, where clinicians are finding themselves toting around too many of them.

Livescribe Offers New Connections

Livescribe announced today support for sending notes to Google Docs and Evernote via Livscribe Connect. The pen still has to be docked to a computer to do it, though. Until the Livescribe pen becomes a connected device, I won’t be buying one. In addition, Livescribe needs to support connecting to OneNote and Skydrive for seamless cloud syncing. Here’s some acknowledgement info via Ina Fried’s blog:

CEO Jim Marggraff said at an event for reporters that the shift to smart wireless devices has highlighted the fact that, although his company’s product has helped allow handwritten notes go digital, “the Livescribe smartpen remains a disconnected device in a connected world.”

The Livescribe Connect service is designed to take a step toward addressing that, but still requires the pen be docked to a computer in order to send notes via e-mail or transfer them to another program. Though not sharing any details, Marggraff acknowledged that a wireless connection from the pen would be the next logical step.

FluidMath: New Hand-Written Math Solver

If you are a teacher, interested in ways to make math instruction more interactive and interesting, or if you are a parent, pondering how to help your grade school or middle school child with math, then you might be interested in a new math solving application called “FluidMath.” Developed by Fluidity Software, FluidMath has apparently just been released; a 10-day demo version is available and I downloaded it last night. The whole process requires that you register at Fluidity’s site, after which you can download the current version of their application. Installation requires that you first install .NET 4.0 (if you don’t already have it) and then FluidMath itself. The installation is straightforward and without issues.

The UI is clean and simple, and there are a few instructional videos that sketchily describe how to make FluidMath work. I’m still working to familiarize myself with the UI and with FM’s features, but I can already see that this application has promise. Hand-written math recognition is near realtime, and the software shows great tolerance for both how the math is written and for changes. There is a handy scratch-out gesture that allows for edits on the fly, and the recognition seems to keep up very well. FM also plots functions with a single gesture and also animates sketches (although this is one of several areas where user guidance is painfully lacking). It might just be me, but I have yet to find a User’s Manual.

The website leaves no doubt that FluidMath is a work in progress and that future improvements in the coverage of math (integration, for example) are planned. Unfortunately, Fluidity’s pricing structure implies that they are only interested in institutional customers. It’s interesting to note that a very similar application, xThink’s MathJournal, has a much wider coverage of math functions and is less than half the price! But if your particular need is great, FluidMath might have just the specific features that you’ve been looking for.

See: www.fluiditysoftware.com

HTC Flyer Pen on the HP Slate 500

The pen for the HTC Flyer is the first appearance of N-trig’s two-button battery-powered pen, which they call their “Digital Pencil.” I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the pen to see if it represented any improvements over the N-trig pens that we’ve seen so far, so I grabbed my HP Slate and went down to my local Best Buy to see.

The Flyer pen turned out to be the same length as the other N-trig pens, but with two buttons; one for “right click” and one for “erase.” The pen has the same smooth-ish silver finish as the HP pen, but it has a completely metal cap (no plastic ring, which has been prone to breakage). Of more interest to me was the pen nib. Rather than being dark gray with two indented rings, the nib was light gray with no rings. The plastic material seemed to be about the same hardness as the dark gray nibs, but the pen seemed less noisy… less “clanky”… during use. Is this the improved pen that we’ve been promised? I don’t think so, but it does seem to be a bit improved relative to my stock HP pen.

I only had a few minutes to try the pen out (as there were real potential customers standing around) but I can report that it inked and right-clicked on the Slate, just like any other N-trig battery pen. I wasn’t able to make the erase button work, but realized after I had left the store that I had not checked the “erase if button available” box in the Pen and Touch window. (Thought that I had – Doh!) My guess is that the erase button would have worked except for this oversight.

Unfortunately, Best Buy has priced the pen at ~$80, so I probably won’t be buying it for my Slate or for my forthcoming Fujitsu Q550. However, I’m still optimistic that N-trig will deliver an improved digital pencil that we can all use later this year.

HTC Flyer Initial Impressions

I made my way to Best Buy today to check out the pen and touch-enabled HTC Flyer tablet. Because of my past experience with N-trig devices and tablets in general,  I was expecting to be disappointed with the handwriting.

I came away very impressed.

  • Handwriting was very smooth with a wide select of pens via the Scribble palette popup pen control.
  • Unlike the HP Slate 500 and Dell XT2, I did not experience any vectoring issues on the N-Trig-equipped Flyer. I wrote and annotated while resting my wrist on the screen and did not have to worry about accidentally touching anything or causing any stray marks.  It felt exactly like writing on a Windows-based Tablet PC. Interacting with the pen on the tablet felt very natural, like the OS was built from the beginning with the pen in mind. Kudos to HTC and N-trig for executing this right.
  • I found the size of the Flyer to be perfect for note-taking and reading.
  • I was shocked to find that I could annotate on top of pages in the Book Reader app. This is something I’ve been begging Amazon and Microsoft to do in the Kindle app. This feature is very important for people who like to markup books, papers, Bibles, etc. I’ll need to spend more time in the Reader app with purchased books, but it appears that annotation support is limited to books that are not copyrighted.
  • Activating pen by tapping the pen on the pen icon lets the user annotate anything on the screen. Tap the menu button to save the annotation as an image. Images are saved to the Notes app and can also be viewed in the Gallery.
  • Notes can be synced to an Evernote notebook.
  • Handwriting was very quiet with no noticeable taps or clicks from the pen. I would be very comfortable bringing the Flyer into a meeting
  • I wish the Flyer had a silo to store the pen.

N-Trig and HTC have done an amazing job pulling off something inkers have been begging for: a great handwriting experience on tablets at an affordable price. I caught a glimpse of what Apple could do with the iPad if they took the stylus seriously and integrated pen support from the ground up. I caught a glimpse of what could have been (and what could still be) with Microsoft and their Tablet support. Enabling pen support in Windows Phone 7 needs to be high on Microsoft’s list of priorities.

The HTC Flyer is $499 and available at Best Buy. The pen costs $80 extra, but is worth the extra investment. More impressions to follow after I purchase the Flyer.

 

OneNote 2010 – How Would You Improve It?

When talking about ink and tablets, the subject of note-taking always floats to the top. That is, after all, one of the primary reasons people buy tablet pcs. Thankfully, Microsoft has produced a star product that excels in handwriting, note organization, OCR, and searching. The software is designed to allow someone to take notes how they want to take them.The OneNote team has also taken the note-taking experience and broadened it across many platforms so a user can access their notes while mobile while on different platforms: Windows Phone 7, iPhone / iPod, and web.

Unfortunately, OneNote isn’t quite yet the beautiful symphonic experience it could be. For me, the issues revolve around accessibility, compatibility, and flexibility. OneNote excels as a standalone product, but begins to fall apart once the experience broadens out to the cloud and mobile devices.  How would you improve OneNote so it was your defacto note-taking application across in your personal and business life? If OneNote is where you live right now, how would you improve it so it isn’t just a one instrument show, but a truly mesmerizing symphonic experience?

 

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