Here's a request I receive frequently from my readers. It usually goes something like this:
Dear Mr. Mack,
I have been following your website, EricMackOnline for about a year.  I still check in regularly and enjoy immensely for almost every topics from robot to home school :)  Particularly, I enjoy your work ethics that was also mentioned in your opening of your first tablet PC.  I'm writing this email in regards to your recent use of your tablet PC.  Since November (almost 6 months ago), I have not heard anything related to your Tablet PC adventure.  I think many of your loyal followers still would like to know how you apply this fascinating technology to your works.  Your opinions mean a lot to your sincere readers.

Chun Shun Lau
(posted with permission)
Well, there's a subtle answer to this.

In November, I decided to purchase a second laptop as a backup for my Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC. I needed the peace of mind of having a spare computer that was always synched up and ready to go, if the need arose. I really wanted to move to the ThinkPad X60, however, it was unavailable. Since David Allen asked me to recommend some new high-end laptops for his executive team, I decided to follow my own recommendation and purchase the same model that I had carefully researched and recommended to David - the ThinkPad T60p, by Lenovo. We were not disappointed. Well David wasn't. Two weeks after I received my new T60 and I recommended that a client buy a Toshiba Tablet,  IBM shipped the X60. Such is life.

Anyway, In December, I loaded both the Tecra M4 Tablet PC and the Lenovo ThinkPad T60p from scratch, using only  the Base OS provided by the vendor and a single set of CDs for everything I installed. Only the serial numbers changed between the two computers. I set the two side by side. Having two laptops allowed me to leave the Tecra in full-time slate mode with an external ThinkPad USB keyboard. This worked great, especially for mind mapping with MindManager.

But gradually, I stopped using the tablet on a daily basis, and eventually slowed to using it for mapping. Even then, I'm doing more mapping on the ThinkPad than the Tecra M4.

Prompted by the email requests, I thought about why this is. I concluded that there are at least three reasons:
1) I am a little less mobile than I was when I was working on my management degree
2) Lotus Notes, my favorite tool for personal knowledge management and collaboration is not easy to use with a stylus. (However, it could be.)
But, the most significant reason:
3) I subconsciously changed my computing behavior because the ThinkPad simply works and the Tecra M4 simply crashes, locks up, slows down, etc. Not always, but often enough that I subconsciously stopped using the Toshiba Tablet PC in favor of my more reliable ThinkPad.

Does this mean I'm not YABHTU?

I guess so. I still think the Tablet PC is a powerful productive tool - when it works. I don't know if the problem lies in the XP Tablet OS or if it is in Toshiba's implementation of the device driver. Whatever it is, the ThinkPad implementation is stable and the Tecra M4 with very few programs loaded is not.  So, while I still believe in the Tablet platform and I plan to purchase another Tablet PC someday (I still owe $$ on my Tecra M4) this particular Tablet PC did not boost my productivity sufficiently to put up with the problems. before I bought the ThinkPad T60p I had forgotten how reliable a computer can be. Now that I'm back to the ThinkPad, I'm spoiled.

Will I continue to use a Tablet PC?

Absolutely, but right now, I'm only using it  for specific activities where the Tablet PC offers me specific advantage. Which means, that I'm really not benefitting from all that I could with a Tablet PC.  I don't regret my adventure into the Tablet PC space or my decision to purchase the Toshiba Tecra M4. I wanted to experience the Tablet PC and I wanted to have the largest screen possible. I got to do both and I was able to learn a great deal about the Tablet PC. because of this experience, and my 8-week paperless challenge, I now have more experience with the Tablet PC than I did before. I wrote over 130 posts on the Tablet PC, more than any other single category on this blog! Because of it, I'm better qualified to demonstrate and recommend Tablet PCs to my eProductivity consulting clients.

What's next?

I think I'll start getting things done with my solid ThinkPad T60p. I'd consider the X60, however it's underpowered compared to the T60, so I'll enjoy what I have and wish for the next Tablet PC from Lenovo.

I hope to be YABHTU again.

Discussion/Comments (6):

Why haven’t I blogged about Tablet PC’s in six months?

I bought an M4 not too long after you did; your blog was one of the reasons I chose that particular laptop. I bought it right before college, and I've had a very similar experience:

At first, I used it for taking notes in class, learning the tablet functionality, etc. I used it for most of my notes, and took them in ink format.

Slowly, I began to drift away from that as I learned that professors don't mind if you have a laptop out; I instead typed my notes. My handwriting is not very legible, and I lost a lot of the benefit of "ink" notes because I didn't have anything coherently organized when I was done. Plus, there was the desire to "doodle" all over the paper, although it's easier to delete that in ink.

I haven't used the ink functionality seriously for at least a year. The M4 is large, and it's nowhere near as instant as pen and paper to whip out a quick note. I think its size limits my interest in using it as a tablet.

The Tablet OS (XP) is like trying to drive a car with a steering wheel the size of a donut -- Windows just wasn't designed to handle ink, and it's been retrofitted on to an OS with tiny widgets; an OS designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard. Maybe Vista's better.

I think that in a few years, we'll see extraordinarily viable tablet options, as the technology emerges and improves. But for me, I type a lot faster than I write, so the benefits of ink are little to me. The most I've gotten out of my M4 is that the screen swivels, so I can easily show someone across the table what I'm looking at.

Plus the fan's noisy and the CPU isn't as fast as I'd like it to be... ah well. It's the life of a technology enthusiast-- get relatively new technology, and they'll come out with better, slimmer models. It's the inevitable progress of technology; the tablet platform will grow and thrive, but I think it will really grow only when our technology has improved another few years.

Posted at 5/23/2007 10:43:20 PM by Marcus C.

The Tablet OS (XP) is like trying to drive a car...

...with a steering wheel the size of a donut.

I love that quote, Marcus. I forgot about the fan noise. (Don't get me started on that one.) My fan has not been as bad since I had the M4 serviced, however, when it starts up I can still hear it across the room. My ThinkPad has a faster, hotter processor and runs near silent.

As for the compelling Tablet PC apps, (or lack thereof), my Tablet PC and GTD Buddy, Marc Orchant, wrote a great post on the topic:

I knew, when I bought the Tecra that I was possibly investing in life on the bleeding edge. My clients pay me to live there so that I can find out what works and what doesn't. I'll probably give the Tablet another go, someday. As I mentioned earlier, I want to see how Lenovo's next Tablet goes. I've owned many Thinkpads over the past decade and I've never been disappointed. Supposedly Lenovo's going to ship the X61 next month. I'll see if I can get one to review. Let's hope third time's a charm.

Posted at 5/23/2007 11:16:32 PM by Eric Mack

Why haven’t I blogged about Tablet PC’s in six months?

Tablet PC fatigue... I think many early adopters have experienced this. I was just speaking with a friend at Microsoft who was just given a new company laptop (previously she had a Toshiba M200) and she's realized that she wasn't really using the Tablet features all that much and that the laptop serves her needs just fine.

I can say, after using the X60t for a couple of months that it does advance the state-of-the-art in Tablets nicely and is without a doubt the best I've used. It may not be the very fastest machine out there but it's more than fast enough for all of the tasks I demand of it, is very lightweight, and has extraordinary battery life. It also has the best hardware button and on-screen menu setup I've used to date.

But "the WOW" is definitely at a low point as Rob Bushway wrote a while back at Yes, Vista is an improvement over the XP version – ink recognition is better out of the box and is trainable now to make it even more accurate, Pen Flicks provide gesture support in the OS itself, and the TIP is a lot smarter and more accessible than in XP. But these are incremental improvements, not earth-shattering reasons to rush out and buy a Tablet PC.

Some people are really buzzing over the UMPCs – my experience has been pretty disappointing. I think that touch screen and dual mode (touch and active digitizer like the Lenovo offers as an option) are a step in the right direction and there are some very interesting developments in 3rd party software designed to leverage touch screens coming out so this is a trend to watch.

But it ultimately comes down to what meets your needs best. I appreciate the mobility and flexibility the Tablet PC provides. It's my preferred PC to use when flying and working at a conference or seminar. But it's not for everyone and the experiences you've had with the Toshiba M4 are pretty consistent with what I've heard from others using that particular mode. At the time it was introduced, it was the most powerful option available. That kind of advantage does not last long in the fast-paced technology world.

It will be interesting to see the impact Dell's long-rumored entry into the space will have. From the limited amount of information available, it appears to be based on their Latitude line of business laptops and is targeted at the business community, not education or consumers. Combined with recent rumors that Dell may be opening a retail channel, this could mean that a Dell Tablet will be on store shelves in a very visible way this year.

That will likely give the space a visibility boost but I suspect at this point that the vision that all portable PCs would be Tablets is still just that... a vision (or a dream). The fact that the Tablet PC functions are now built into almost all versions of Windows and can be used even with a touch screen (passive digitizer) or external graphics tablet is a smart move by Microsoft but it won't make enough of difference to reinvigorate the segment by itself.

It ultimately will come down to software - and from someone other than Microsoft - to provide a "must have" reason to buy to accomplish that. Until then, the Tablet PC (and UMPC) will be a niche product for highly mobile folks whose work environment and work style makes the ability to ink or interact with the OS using a stylus or finger a desirable feature.

Or so it seems to me...

Posted at 5/24/2007 5:27:10 AM by Marc Orchant

Why haven’t I blogged about Tablet PC’s in six months?

This is a perfect example of what I consider to be the first tenet of technology: reliability trumps everything.

If something can be relied upon to work -- albeit slower, more clunky, or more steps -- it will be used far more than cool, sleek, new anything that is not as reliable.

And, yes, I love shiny new things. But we're usually into quality being job 1.1 - 1.56 before it gets to where it needs to be for reliability. Unfortunately!

Posted at 5/24/2007 12:53:52 PM by Scot Herrick

re: Why haven’t I blogged about Tablet PC’s in six months?

Indeed. In the beginning the shiny new tablet was enough to help me overlook (at least a little) some of the problems. Once I got another machine next to it, however, it was all over. I don't know what it is about the ThinkPad but their software/hardware integration simply works.

Posted at 5/24/2007 5:59:59 PM by Eric Mack

Why haven’t I blogged about Tablet PC’s in six months?

The tablet feature is more or less redundant for many people. Since people can simply type on the computer, why do they need to write something on it? If we really need writing, how about just pencil and pen. I think that is lot more convenient.

However I'm using a R400 Toshiba right now. It's not fast and use only tablet function only in school for doing my homeworks and my notes. Otherwise I use mostly keyboard. I don't know; I still love the idea of tablet simply because I love to do my work with my computer.

Posted at 5/27/2007 6:06:39 PM by Willy

Discussion for this entry is now closed.