Vendors put pen to tablet

Pen input technology is the centrepiece of the worldwide release of Tablet PCs, allowing users to write, sketch, annotate, manipulate and navigate documents with a cordless pen.

The Tablet PC’s LCD screen generates vector-based digital ink objects that vary in line thickness depending on pen pressure.

The pen replaces the mouse as a tool for screen navigation. Screen items can be selected without making contact with the screen, though this works at a limited distance.

Microsoft’s Tablet PC operating system offers handwriting-to-text conversion, and lets users manipulate pictures with their pen and draw detailed diagrams. Handwritten notes can be stored, searched and reviewed.

These PCs offer programmable pens with left and right buttons on the sides that replace the mouse. The pens do not require batteries. Optional pens also feature eraser tips, such as those on lead pencils. This allows ‘traditional’ erasing, rather than manual selection and deletion of text.

Penabled Technology from WACOM is used in Tablet PCs by Fujitsu, Acer, Toshiba and others, and is capable of 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. It requires no additional software, as the pen's functions will vary according to the program used.

WACOM representative David Spencer gave one example. “It does support shortcut commands, like you see with PDAs, though that’s not a direct result of Penabled Technology,” he said.

Spencer said consumers would find minor variations in the Penabled Technology across its Tablet PC brands.

Although the technology is pressure sensitive, only the pen can mark the screen.

A grid of wires in a sensor board under the LCD sends an electro-magnetic signal that can be returned only by the pen tip. The energy stimulated in the pen’s coil-and-capacitor resonant circuit is detected by the sensor board’s grid and analysed for position, pressure, and tilt data.

Spencer said the benefits of Tablet PCs were equal for novice and expert users.

“A lot of uses are much easier with this technology,” he said. “Use is becoming much more important these days than computer specifications and power.”

Spencer said industry will use Penabled Technology with wireless networks. Acer’s Tablet PC, for instance, offers integrated 802.11b wireless connectivity.

A prime market for Tablet PCs initially will be medical professionals. Spencer gave the example of a nurse’s schedule of documenting several patients’ conditions, and being able to send that data to the hospital’s network instantly from a Tablet PC with wireless connectivity.

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