Write naturally and still touch on a Tablet PC
I’ve been a Tablet PC user for more than 3 years now, and I really like my Tablet PC, even until today. As much as Tablet PCs are now nothing more than “an extra feature” compared to being a “special class of notebooks”, I still think that Tablet PCs are perfect machines for students. There are many kinds of technologies that make Tablet PCs work, each with it’s pros and cons, but none that brings all the advantages together.
There’s a lot of technical jargon in this article that I will attempt to explain in great detail to what it is, and how they work. Just thought I’d warn you first. Oh, and all this is based on what I’ve read up in the past. I’m no expert in this, so if you are, please tell me if I made something up!
The technologies involved in Tablet PCs today
Tablet PCs are all about providing an alternative input method for users, primarily pen-based input methods. There are generally two ways manufacturers can make that possible: Using “electromagnetic resonance” technology, or using “resistive touch” technology. Let me explain how these two technologies work, as they are the basis of what I want to share regarding building that perfect tablet pc today.
1. Electromagnetic Resonance, a.k.a wireless pen technology
It may sound quite a mouthful, but the technology is pretty simple. Your tablet’s display produces an electromagnetic field on your display. When a special pen gets close to the display, it senses exactly where the pen is. At the same time, it allows the pen to produce electricity to power the components in the pen. These components detect the amount of pressure exerted on to the tip of the pen and sends it to computer. The computer combines those information (the position and the pressure of the pen) and translates it as an input. (Wikipedia article on this technology)
1. What’s the deal with this wireless pen technology
Two things. Your pen becomes pressure sensitive, so the harder you write, the thicker your ink. This makes your handwriting look natural, and with the write applications (including photoshop), you can do painting with it. Ok, so that’s just a cool feature. The second deal with this technology is that your display reacts to nothing but your pen. That means like real paper, you can lean your hand on the display when you write! That makes writing for long periods (e.g. during a lecture) less tiring and more natural, because it’s just like writing on real paper. In fact, some tablets even have pens with an “eraser” side, meaning if you “write” with the pen upside down, you’ll be erasing your ink! Cool eh? The original Tablet PCs use this technology, along with Wacom drawing tablets today.
2. Resistive Touch technology, a.k.a the good ol’ PDA touch screen
This is a very common touch technology. It’s found on almost every touch-screen phone today. It’s very simple. You exert pressure on any point in the screen, the computer knows where you pressed and that becomes a click. In fact, the screen will have to literally dent in when you press it. (Wikipedia article on technology)
2. The deal with resistive touch
Because it reacts to anything that presses against the screen, you can use anything from your own finger, to a plastic pen (or stylus), to guitar picks (like the Nokia 5800 touch screen phone). The bad thing? It’s not very precise unless you use a pointy item (such as a stylus) to press the screen, and like I mentioned, it reacts to anything, so you can’t lean on the screen when you write. Can you imagine how tiring that is?
So it’s either write, or touch
With the introduction of the iPhone (before you email me, I know the Microsoft Surface revealed touch first, but do you see them everywhere today? So there…), everyone has gone touch crazy. Everyone wants to put touch into every thing they can think of. Even HP moved it’s tablet PCs from using the wireless pen technology to the resistive touch technology. Users could use their own finger to touch the screen, and when they wanted to write, they could just whip out that plastic pen to write. You can’t write for long on that machine though, because you can’t lean on the display. And since that fancy wireless pen technology doesn’t let you use your finger, you have to choose either to write or to touch. What if you could get the best of both worlds? Being able to write naturally like you would on real paper, while still letting you touch your photos, touch your music etc. Well, this is one solution.
The best of both worlds
Since a electromagnetic resonance technology based computer is able to detect when a pen is near or on the display, why don’t someone make a tablet pc that has electromagnetic resonance technology on a touch screen? When your pen is near the screen, the computer will disable the touch screen, so that it will react to nothing but the pen, allowing you to lean on the display when you write. And when you keep your pen, it can re-enable your touch screen so that you can use your fingers to touch the screen! Heck, why not use capacitative touch technology instead of resistive touch technology while you’re at it?
Capacitative touch technology detects your finger by sensing a change in current when your finger is touching it. Meaning you don’t have to exert pressure on the display, just simply touching the display, thus allowing your finger to slide on the screen (like how you slide photos on an iPhone). Your screen can then actually be hard (i.e. made of glass) so that you can write easily with a pen. In fact, capacitative touch technology supports multi-touch as well! That’s the technology that all notebook trackpads, iPhones and HTC G1s use!
So combine capacitative touch technology with that fancy sounding electromagnetic resonance technology on a Tablet PC and you have the perfect Tablet PC!
Guess what? HP did that with the HP Touchsmart TX2z
According to Laptop Mag, HP just announced the HP Touchsmart TX2z Tablet PC today. According to their hands on article, it actually uses all those fancy stuff I mentioned today! It supports multi-touch, while letting you use a pen as well! They even mentioned that the screen stops detecting touch when you put your pen near your display! Now that’s a cool, practical Tablet PC! If you’re looking for a good tablet pc, I’d recommend you watch out for that model once it goes on sale in Singapore! (It will, right HP?)