Tablets are the way of the future

After watching some old Alan Kay videos, I started thinking about modeless interfaces and tablet PC's. I think that the tablet PC has been largely under-appreciated, but is a form factor that has a lot of potential. The reason that it was under-appreciated, in my opinion, is - at least partly - because of the software. The operating system on most of the tablet PCs in the market is windows, but the version of windows installed on the machines is not any different from any other windows. Aside from some duck-tape-like software to allow for hand writting recogition and a few other features, there's really very little work that's been put into making the software working great with the form factor. With the hype of multi-touch screens, I think conditions are ripe for a comeback for tablets if the right things happen. Apple has the best chance of making it work: doing with tablets what they did with mobile phones, plus they already have multitouch technology on their side, so it's a natural match.

Now, why tablets? How did I settle on that? I guess it started with a video Kay show of a modeless interactive system which uses a stylus. It was some sort of flow-chart editor. The main thing is that it was modeless. To create a box, you didn't have to go and select the box tool, no, you just draw a box in the shape of a rectangle. And to make a port on the box, you just draw it on the edge of the box. To write text in the box you just scribble it. To connect 2 boxes you just draw a line from the edge on one to a edge of another. Why don't we have more interfaces like this today? In photoshop, in order to do anything at all, you usually have to be aware of being in a combination of at least 3 different kinds of modes: your selection, your tool selection, and the current layer. Plus, with many of the actions you take, modal dialogs popup afterwards to asks you for parameters you want before anything actually happens. This is why doing anything in Photoshop feels like such a hassle. Well, okay, that's more of a user interface issue than about the tablet, but that's what inspired it. What's special about the tablet form factor, I think, is that the stylus gives you better control of fine movements than the mouse, and therefore allows you to draw more accurate shapes, which allows you to better articulate what you mean to the machine, with which programs can better detect gestures. That's why graphic artists prefer tablets to regular laptops, after all. You may have concerns that using a stylus freehand tires your wrist, but there's no reason why you cannot rest your palm on the surface: in fact I tried out the HP tablets at Fry's the other day and resting your palm while writting does not interfere at all. The second thing that's major about the tablet form factor is the emergence of multi-touch. There isn't a major multi-touch tablet in the market today, but Apple already has the iphone and the Macboox Air - which allows you to use iphone-like gestures on the touchpad. If you haven't played with the iphone, the multi-touch hand gestures like swipe, flick, pinch, and spread, are phenomnonal in terms of user-happiness. These gestures are intuitive, easy to use, immersive, and...modeless. Many iphone users have complained after going back to their macbook, that they can't use these gestures anymore. It's pretty obivious now that macbooks from now on will all have multi-touch enabled touch pads. Now, you might ask me, you like the stylus, and then you are talking about multi-touch, are we going to use the stylus or our fingers? I am just saying...we use both. In fact, one hand could be using the stylus while the other could be making gestures. Imagine, for example, editing a long document using the stylus like a pen, and swiping with the other hand to scroll the document. Now, you may object and say: you still need a keyboard. Well, I agree, and the reason is that you can type faster with a keyboard than you can write with a pen. But, with the asterisk that this is not the case with everyone, only people who can type well. If you can't type faster than you can write, then you don't need a keyboard at all! Wow! Then all you need is a giant size touch-screen. But for touch typists, yes, you will need a keyboard, otherwise you will be sacreficing a lot of speed. I don't know, will this be a slide out, or a fold up? Not really sure. What about one handed keyboard? I personally have a thing for one-handed keyboards.

Anyway, that's my vision of the future, and I think Apple obiviously stands the best chance of making it happen, but personally I don't really care who does it. Will it happen? Well, I was right about the iphone before, so...

blog comments powered by Disqus