Tablet PC – a Lifekludger view

It’s rude not to point

Ok here I am typing on the onscreen keyboard of a Tablet PC*. A first for me.

The good folks at Tegatech Australia kindly sent me a Tablet to loan and have a bit of a play and see how someone without the use of hands might go using a Tablet PC. As they put it “All well and good to call it intuitive when everything (on us) works, but I reckon it’s important for you to have a say”. That expresses the kind of attitude I like and find helpful.

So the Tablet arrived, a Sahara Pen Slate PC with Intel Pentium M 1.3, 512Mb RAM running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, Version 2002, Service Pack2.

Sahara Pen Slate Specifications
[Fig . 1] – Sahara Pen Slate PC Specifications

As this Tablet had the type of screen requiring the use of a special pointer ‘pen’, Wacom style, the first task was to attach the pen to my ‘standard’ input method, a mouthstick. This was quickly done by a helper with a couple rubber bands.

Tablet PC pen [top], PDA Stylus [inset]
[Fig . 2] – Tablet PC pen [top], PDA Stylus [inset]

The resultant ‘duo-stick’ was a tad heavy, a lot more noticeable than the small stylus I have permanently affixed to my ‘stick’ at home for use on my PDA.
The next thing was to position the Tablet where I could reach it on my desk and at an angle as I found I couldn’t reach the top in Portrait configuration. I managed to find how to configure the screen to turn it into Landscape mode which proved better. Getting the angle right was a trick – too flat and I couldn’t make the pen work as it was on too much of an angle, too steep and it just didn’t match the ‘peck’ angle of my typing. Even in landscape, reaching the top of the Tablet proved a bit of a stretch. I always found myself stretching to grab a window and drag it down the screen where I could reach it and give the pen a better operating angle. Tapping and dragging came easy. I found in much simpler to drag windows around using the ‘pen’ than a trackball. There’s less clicks involved.

Angled tablet, need landscape
[Fig . 3] – Angled tablet, need landscape}

View over the shoulder showing operation
[Fig . 4] – View over the shoulder showing operation}

Clickety Clack

I watched one of the Tutorials and discovered how the input bar operated. I went for the onscreen keyboard (osk) and opened Wordpad to test it out. I’m used to onscreen keyboards, using them periodically on my PDA and while operating my computer while in bed. The experience is different however when using a ‘stick’ directly on a screen and using a stick to control a Trackball that controls the cursor to point to an osk. I found myself straight away hunting for a ‘click’ sound on the keyboard. I found the option in the Control Panel under the Tablet Properties. That improved the experience of typing.

Properties showing pen options
[Fig . 5] – Properties showing pen options

This issue of feedback is one I’ve never heard anyone talk about and one that anyone with all their senses working would not necessarily think about however it’s one I come up against in many areas of my life, not just computers. Because I have no ‘feel’ sensory feedback I find it extremely better to have some other form of feedback for operating buttons/keys. Usually this means auditory feedback, so I can actually hear I’ve actuated something. Sometimes a visual cue is okay too, such that I can see it move. While the Tablet pen did make a faint sound when ‘tapping’ the screen, having the ‘click’ sound was so much better.

More Input Stephanie!

Next I turned my attention to using the hand writing recognition part of the input bar.

Again, I was used to this idea as I use the transcriber function often on my PDA. The big difference I noticed here was how on the Tablet you have to write on the input bar whereas on my PDA I scribble on the screen – something I sometimes found myself trying to do on the Tablet. It would be good to see the Tablet and the Windows Mobile have a bit more consistency across the two platforms. This is the one killer area that Apple have always done well, consistency across applications.

I quickly got into the grove of what I’ll call ‘scrawling’. The weight of the pen made it a little more cumbersome than I would’ve liked but the ability of the software to recognise my ‘scrawling’ was amazing. I found I could even write in a manner where I left the pen on the screen and joined the letters in a semi-cursive style.

Good ‘scrawl’ recognition
[Fig . 6] – Good ‘scrawl’ recognition

I’m not sure I was any faster writing (penning?), ‘scrawling’ than typing on the screen initially, but I’ve been so used to not being able to write for so long maybe typing has become more ‘normal’ to me. I was certainly getting quicker the more I used it. Even though I was using my mouth it somehow felt more ‘natural’ to ‘write’ and I’d imagine anyone who can write would find it intuative. I also think that it would be a boon to those new to computers who break into a confusion of fear when faced with a computer keyboard.

Recognition close-up
[Fig . 7] – Recognition close-up

I can imagine taking notes with the writing part of the input bar would be an advantage over using a keyboard. It’s a quick way to get stuff input I as long as you’re not concerned with correcting as you go. In that regard I found the experience a bit like voice recognition where the idea is to use the method as way to get data into a document quickly and correct later.

One interesting thing I discovered was instead of hitting the “Insert” button to put the ‘scrawl’ into the document, I could just ‘tap’ on the document. Mind you, it also sometimes set the cursor in the middle of a sentence doing that, so maybe it wasn’t such a great discovery.

Just say the word

I noticed that this Tablet has voice recognition, and from the input bar you could switch between command mode and dictation mode. I gave it a go using the inbuilt mic. That was a bit of a disaster as the noise of the computer ‘clicking’ would set off the recognition software and started taking on a life of its own. Obviously the built in mic would be ideal for note taking/voice recording and with the speaker turned off could be possibly used. However it advises use of a headset microphone, and I’m sure it’d work then. I wasn’t in a position to attach a different microphone and besides which I hate being ‘tethered’ to a computer, but I’ve used these systems before and have no reason to expect it would work any differently in a Tablet format PC. It would be good to see how this speech engine works as compared to Dragon which I’ve used. Will be interesting to see what Vista brings with its built-in recognition.

For a laugh, here’s something that was ‘jointly’ dictated by me and the Tablet.

Until July, 1963 1721163 one and a little unusual in speech recognition system lucky people might find it in
The union speech dictation system is very minimum of 515

I also tried a bit of drawing on the Tablet however as time was limited and I was unfamiliar with the platform and applications used for ‘inking’ I can’t offer much in that department aside from a quickly drawn diagram which I posted on my blog “Lifekludger” (see Fig. 10). It certainly was a much easier and ‘natural’ way of ‘drawing’ than using a trackball. It was quick and very easy and enjoyable.

He wondered where all the computer had gone

Something really hit me, and is encapsulated in the cartoon-style drawing (see Fig. 10), as the overall biggest sensation I had while spending time with a Tablet. That sensation was that for once I had everything I needed in one compact place. That’s hard to notice as a big thing unless you realise just how I’m dependant on only being able to ‘reach’ a certain, limited area with my mouthstick. Once the tablet is setup in the position where I can get to the screen easily, I’m ready to go.

These pictures might better show it.

Usual work setup
[Fig . 8] – Usual work setup

This is what I have setup at home and work. The issue is how to operate a pointing device and keyboard with what I can ‘reach’ while also being able to see the screen while ‘pointing’ or moving the cursor. I designed these devices that hold a standard keyboard and trackball in a relative position to each other while being in ‘reach’ of my mouthstick and also with screen viewable whe using the trackball. Now I’ve tried conventional laptops but there’s big issues. First one is those touch pads – they’re skin sensitive. That means short of taping someone’s finger to the end of my ‘stick’ they’re useless. So that means I need a joystick-style ala IBM etc. But then there’s the issue that to reach the keyboard I have problems with the mouse buttons being too close. Now, all that was to indicate that with a Tablet platform none of that matters anymore. If I can reach the screen I can operate it. No mouse, keyboard, mouse-button issues……mostly because there aren’t any….any physical ones anyhow.

All the issues are virtualised. All I need is this.’s all just there
[Fig . 9] –’s all just there

One of the drawbacks of this whole ‘virtualisation’ of physical input devices is the sacrificed screen space. As I said earlier, I found the Tablet just a little too big. For the first time since pre-release I found myself thinking an Origami/UMPC sized device might be perfect. However the screen space would be a problem.

With an onscreen keyboard I already lose usable space. The same issue applies on a Tablet with virtual keyboard as this picture shows.

Some screen space used by onscreen keyboard (BTW Those are clouds on the screens)
[Fig . 10] – Some screen space used by onscreen keyboard (BTW Those are clouds on the screens)

“You can’t always get what you want”

Most things in life are a compromise. Add a disability into the mix and they just get bigger compromises requiring bigger kludges.

A Tablet tryout definately gave me more ideas and insights into future computing possibilities. There’s no substitution for ‘Hands-on’ (stick-on) in this area of working around issues involving using technology to make lives work.

Daddy, Baby, Mummy – Desktop, PDA, Tablet
[Fig . 11] – Daddy, Baby, Mummy – Desktop, PDA, Tablet

Now, I can’t wait to see if a UMPC might fit that space between PDA and Tablet just right.

David N Wallace – Dave the Lifekludger.

* Not all this was written on the Tablet.

17 thoughts on “Tablet PC – a Lifekludger view

  1. I’m glad you’re able to use a Tablet in a way that permits you to go on the Internet and interact with others. I’m disabled myself and understand the depressed moments we go through to try to adapt to an able-bodied world. There must have been a lot of trial and error to finally make a comfortable setup as you have now. I wish the best of luck to you. The rare disabled person interacting with another disabled person on the Internet.

  2. Exhile, great to meet you. I was only loaned the Tablet to see how it’d go for me, sorry if Igave the impression I use one all the time. Might catchup some more via email. Thanks for your comment!

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  7. Dave, excellent article on your usage of the Tablet PC. Have you tried a Sahara Tablet with a touch screen? This might be easier to manipulate since the screen is directly responsive to contact. Great article!

  8. In regards to your current system and not being able to use a trackpad:

    Though not an ideal choice, a trackpad would possibly be better then the roller mouse, or at least a decent alternative. I’m sure there must be a version out there that reacts to something other than a finger, but even if not, there must be a way to emulate the finger and skin. Maybe it’s an electrical signal of some kind? If no one has a simple answer I’ll look into it.

    My mother once had an alarm clock with a touch sensitive snooze bar, but her fingers, for whatever reason, could not activate it, whereas mine could.

    On another note, I use ritepen software to allow me to “write anywhere” on the screen and not be limited to the TIP box. Write Anywhere was a function Windows XP had on the original XP OS of SP1 but did away with in SP2. I’m still heart broken! But at least ritepen is a workable alternative.

    And lastly, I have my tablet hooked up to an extended 19″ monitor, so the lack of real estate is no longer an issue. Of course the other monitor is not touch or pen sensitive, but I use a combination of the pen and conventional mouse/keyboard with the setup and it works well. I believe there is a powertoy that allows you to control a second extended monitor from the Tablet screen, while keeping different info on each. In a way it turns the tablet into a trackpad.

    Best of luck with the tablet, and thanks for the write up of experience.

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  12. I was just going to say I just came across are articles and I find them to be very interesting I just barely got my computer this year and I have been paralyzed for the past seven years but I definitely want to do something with my life in the future and I just want to say that I look up to your positive influence in life

  13. I`m a handicapped person. my hands are short. I have only 3 fingers. when I was a child, I used to write with my foot. or I used to write using both of my hands I can`t write easily. since my back aches after writing for 1 hour.I study mathematics at university. I want to by a tablet for writing with my foot but I don`t know if I can use a tablet for mathematic formulas.Is there any program that fits a tablet for mathematicformulas? please help me. thanks.

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