The more I tap into pen-based computing, the more I realize that I have a lot to learn and a lot to forget. Right up front, I once savaged the pen-based computer metaphor based on a horrible experience with a tablet PC. Within one short month that first tablet PC--mad by a now defunct company called "Momenta Inc." made the jump from front-page leading edge technology to unwieldy office door stop.
If it's true that time loves a hero, then pen computing has come full cycle in my world, and I'm just beginning to take full advantage of this renewed usage metaphor. The machine that's turned my views on tablet PC's around is a Lenovo ThinkPad X41. I bang away on this machine about six hours a day and I never go more than two hours from my home without it. In addition to Microsoft Office, I've also loaded Microsoft OneNote on the X41. Excluding my Internet browser and email program, the other applications I use the most on my X41 are Excel OneNote and Skype (with a Bluetooth headset).
A little about how and why I use those applications first. I'm a pretty serious gardener who happens to have gone to an agricultural college here in Southern California. One of the things I learned in college was the importance of recording and using field observations to make strategic decisions. My observations are pretty basic, daily sun hours, temperatures at specific times of the day, weather conditions, daily, rainfall and humidity. All of that data gets plugged into an Excel spreadsheet that also notes plant growth, the dates flowers, fruits and vegetable appear, days o maturity, and the size and weight of the grown product at harvest. All of this gives me a good overall picture of my efforts to grow crops in two different garden plots. What I've learned from plotting this year's data against similar points from last year is that in 2006, I set my crops too early and have plants that are only half as tall this year as they were in 2005.
I enter this data in my spreadsheet as it's collected by using an onscreen keyboard and the basic hand writing recognition software that's supplied by IBM and Microsoft with the ThinkPad X41tablet PC. I annotate a lot of the numerical data in my spreadsheets, using my own notational short hand and by switching from tablet PC to conventional notebook computer mode to gain access to the portable's keyboard. Switching between tablet and conventional notebook modes couldn't be easier tan with the current crop of tablets like the ThinkPad Z41. Controls on the bottom of the display case let you easily move the cursor and the swivel hinge for the screen is rock solid.
It may take some users a little time to become accustomed to the tablet PC computing metaphor, but when you become use to it, it opens up new potentials. I spend only about two hours a day in tablet mode. Most of that time is either entering data, surfing the web reading content or dealing with e-mail.
The size of tablet PCs like the X41 have yielded another bonus for me, reclaiming desk space and helping me to put aside my PC and use it 0only when its needed. If I am flaked out in my chair with my dog in my lap watching TV, the only time I pay attention to my tablet PC is when a soft chime alerts me of an incoming email. The X41, which uses a monocore Pentium M runs cool enough to escape the attention of my cats, who in the winter and spring actively search out thermal heat sources.
Finally, my fist experience with a tablet PC-- the Momenta-- was so bad that I've intentionally run the tutorials shipped on the X41's hard disk drive several times. When I've had additional questions I've been able to get answers by activating the "Access IBM" button on the keyboard. I've really like this ThinkPad feature. It helps me to remain productive and not fall victim to my own incompetence or arrogance.
Tablet computing still has a ways to go. No other category screams out more for "instant on." I really hope IBM and Microsoft get this feature shortly. As soon as they do, I suspect we'll see a big sales by OEMs for vertical applications like order taking, warehouse and inventory control, law enforcement, and insurance claims. Until that happens though, boot up times on the X41 and other tablets have to be improved significantly. But the current form factor and configuration of the X41 comes close to being my ideal: it's small enough to be unobtrusive, built like a tank and can be used effortlessly to connect to 802.11 wireless or ad hoc blue tooth networks. Its battery life is so noteworthy that I seldom worry about running out of power until after I break for lunch. And with it's integrated biometric security, I feel confident that my data is safe from unauthorized use.
And those are big reasons why my Lenovo ThinkPad X 41 is my new favorite traveling partner.--Jim Forbes wirelessly from my garage in rural northern San Diego County on my 41.
Obligatory Disclosure Statement: I am not a paid blogger. I have written about potable computing and related trends for more than nearly 20 years. For about 10 years I was an volunteer member of IBM's Mobile (Computing) Advisory Council. Tablet notebooks, biometric security and wireless connectivity were several of many technologies I actively discussed while working with the council.