There was lots of exciting Tablet PC news coming out of PDC this week regarding Vista and Office 12. The fact that the Tablet Input system (pen and ink?) is viewed as radical by the big guy kicked the week off for me in such a way that my irony detector is still wobbling a bit.
While those Radical Tableteers among us have heard inklings about some of this news before, there were a few surprises. Here's a quick roundup of the news I found intriguing. Keep in mind that while much of what we have to look forward appears really exciting, it is still aways off as Vista won't hit the market until sometime in the last quarter of 2006. Keep in mind also, that all of the observations I toss out in this post are not first hand and I'm sure things will change before this stuff hits the market. Here are some of my observations.
The Vista OS itself promises so much in so many areas that it is going to be interesting to see what the base hardware system for a Tablet PC will settle in on. The multiple flavors (seven different SKUs) with all but two containing Tablet functionality seems promising for the long run. But will the OEMs match that with different versions or will the price point factor lead them to settle on the lower end? Where will the trade offs land? Name me a geek who wouldn't opt for the highest end Vista flavor. Will that be available and worth the price of admission on a new Tablet PC? Already there are caveats that final packaging decisions haven't been made.
Beyond that issue, the virtual folder idea just makes so much sense to me. The Aero glass effects look to be quite a full dish of eye candy. And, the redo of the audio system to give individual apps sound control is a great improvement. The return of the sidebar (did we ever get an answer to Peter's question?), Gadgets, and more add up to quite a list. Again, lots of promising stuff.
A big announcement this week was that Microsoft will now license the Tablet OS to OEMs that manufacture Touchscreen tablets. Lots of interesting debate about the pros and cons of this. Some see it as a step forward, some a step back. (Check out this thread on Tablet PC Buzz.) I'm looking forward to MiniMage telling us about her experiences as she's the only Tableteer I've seen to date with a Fujitsu P1500, which is the first Tablet PC to market with both a touchscreen and pen UI. Linda Epstein has some great pictures of the 1500 on Tablet PC2.
And on the Tablet OS front the other big news about Personalization of handwriting also looks key. I know I had a reservation about how well recognition would work before I got my first Tablet PC (Toshiba 3505.) I'm anxious to see this in action and see how well this personalization aspect influences the use of ink versus conversion. The fact that it is called personalization and not training does raise some questions in my mind. Here is a link to some screenshots of the interface for the personalization feature. Also check out Shawn Van Ness' video of Inking with Windows Presentation Foundation.
The first looks in Julie Larson's video of Office 12 were something to behold. The interface has changed "radically." I was somewhat surprised at how much had changed but after watching the Channel 9 video, the changes in the UI look logical. To my eye the controls/buttons/menus also seem to be much easier to navigate with a pen. If that observation is true, I think it will be a key. We've already seen some of this creeping in with the release of the Experience and Education packs as well as the Energy Blue Tablet PC orientated theme. That said, I'm thinking that the volume of changes are going to make over all adoption slower as corporations are going to be looking at large retraining costs. For some more good info on the new UI in Office 12 check out this link to Jensen Harris' An Office User Interface Blog. (Thanks to Greg Hughes for the link on this.)
The news that got me the most jazzed was about OneNote 12. It looks and sounds like it is going to be a big evolutionary step if you follow Chris Pratley's blog. Multiple notebooks, instant search, better navigation, a print to function that makes the data searchable, searchable audio and video, and instant conversion of data from the earlier version are all huge improvements.These changes should have a big impact on the Tablet PC along the lines of Killer App status. And, there's also inklings that some of the ink benefits will be available on the desktop as well. Again, I'm very jazzed by what this OneNote news promises for Tablet PC owners.
Craig Pringle and his New Zealand Tablet Users Group uncovered some interesting hardware news in the middle of all of this that I think is telling. A lot of Toshiba Tablet lovers have been anxiously hanging on to rumors of a new version of the M200. Now, it seems, that the next version of that machine won't be available until dual core processors hit the market, which I think is geared towards Vista and next year.
So where does that leave us today? Who really knows. Lots of promises, lots of hope, and in this small corner, lots of optimism tempered with questions. It will certainly be exciting. Vista is going to push a new wave of hardware that's for sure. What that means for the Tablet PC is going to be a key question. There have been quite a few new Tablets released into the wild this year. I'm betting we'll see 85% of those with new versions in 2006, but maybe not until 2007. The only thing I know for sure is that it is going to be an interesting year on the Tablet PC front.