A recent post on SFGate.com titled “2 in 1 Devices can’t take the place of tablets” was puzzling, as the main point of the post seemed to be lamenting the lack of keyboard on a 2 in 1, as well as a not so subtle jab at the most common OS used in most 2 in 1 systems on the market right now. “Puzzling” because the main appeal of a 2 in 1 is the fact that it can transform easily from tablet mode (no keyboard) to desktop mode (with keyboard), as you can see in the video below:
One wonders if the writer had a chance to actually use a 2 in 1 before writing this article, as there is no question that a keyboard is not involved. There seems to be some confusion, as the writer states that the devices comes with a keyboard, then decries that it does not:
“Specifically, the must-have device for 2014….is a 2-in-1 computer - a tablet with a keyboard that either detaches or folds out of the way….a bit puzzling for consumers, who have made it clear that a physical keyboard is as necessary to a tablet as a sound track is to a Miley Cyrus video.”
The writer ends with a somewhat inflammatory statement:
“So don't be fooled. These 2-in-1 thingies are essentially repackaged laptops with touch-screens.”
Fair enough. At this point, very few people are seriously debating the usefulness of the keyboard; this is a ubiquitous piece of kit that is standard in most people’s expectations. A study from Daria Loi on the ergonomics of the 2 in 1 device found overwhelmingly that the consensus was that touch was useful, but it was considered just another input method along the keyboard and the mouse. As in, not separate from or instead of, but part of the same toolbox. This reflects that keyboards, as they have been traditionally for a very long time, are useful for text input. Touch-enabled design does allow for auto-posting with virtual keyboards, however, these don’t have the same “feel” of traditional keyboards and don’t necessarily make for speedy typing, either. Bottom line is that keyboards are not going away anytime soon and no one really expects them to.
Since the 2 in 1 is touch-enabled – meaning it’s got touch AND keyboard – users were using touch and the keyboard in tandem. The experience got rousing thumbs up, with responses ranging from “very natural” to “intuitive”. Going from the keyboard to touch and back to the keyboard again was found to be a very pleasant, dynamic experience for the vast majority of the study subjects. Touch or keyboard weren’t necessarily favored over the other; rather, subjects found that using these input methods in tandem brought about the most natural, productive experience.
The sleek designs of new devices coming out these days practically scream out for touch-enabled GUIs. Moving from clunky PCs that took up an entire desk to a slim tablet with x-amount times the computing power that you can hold in your hand, using just a finger to accomplish something? Now, that's amazing.
The form factors of smartphones, tablets, and now PCs (2 in 1’s in particular) lend themselves towards touch-enabled design in apps. The posture of how we hold these devices is a natural fit for using our fingers as the input methods. For example, we hold a smartphone in one hand and use our thumbs to scroll past content. We hold a tablet in both hands and use our thumbs in tandem with our index fingers to flick, pinch, or select targets. The movements are natural, relaxed, and almost on a sub-conscious level. This is what touch design aims for: to make the experience as unified as possible with as little interference as possible.
While the devices we use are definitely evolving, that doesn’t necessarily mean that touch is the only input method we need. Sure, tablets and smartphones have had touch for a while. But what kind of activity are we primarily seeing on these devices as opposed to devices that have attached keyboards? It’s all about content consumption vs. content creation. Touch lends itself to the consumption side simply because it’s more fiddly to create something with your fingers; keyboards lean to the creation side because a keyboard makes it dead simple to get something out there.
One app that makes this transition between tablet and desktop on the 2 in 1 seamlessly is Krita Gemini. Krita Gemini for Windows* 8, “a fusion between Krita Sketch and Krita Desktop…. switches automatically and seamlessly between the full-featured desktop/notebook user interface and the sketch interface, which is optimized for tablets focuses on 2-in-1awareness, use of the stylus, Intel ®AVX2 optimization, and V Tune™ optimization.
Intel has been supporting the work on Krita Gemini as a focus point for the new generation of Intel-powered 2-in-1 devices which can switch between desktop and touch mode. During development of this technology, Intel commented, "Krita Gemini is a brilliant example of how developers should utilize the option of a convertible device by using both tablet and desktop mode. The switching between the two modes works seamlessly." See how Krita Gemini works in the video below:
A recent case study on Krita Gemini explains extensively how developers should consider multiple scenarios and form factors while modifying their applications to take advantage of and conform to 2 in 1s. For example:
“Just as there are multiple ways that the 2 in 1 can transform between laptop and tablet modes, software can be designed in different ways to respond to the transformation. In some cases it may be desirable to keep the UI as close to the laptop mode as possible, while in other cases you may want to make more significant changes to the UI. For example, Intel helped KO GmBH combine the functionality of their Krita Touch application with their popular Krita open source painting program (laptop application) in the new Krita Gemini application. The Krita project is an active development community, welcoming new ideas and maintaining quality support. The team added the mechanisms required to provide seamless transition from the laptop “mouse and keyboard” mode to the touch interface for tablet mode.”
The debate over keyboards vs. touch as standalone methods of input is not really up for debate at this point in time; the point is basically moot since there are devices (aka the 2 in 1) that provide both when you need it or when you don’t .In addition, switching from tablet to desktop mode – while definitely a call to action for developers to make this transition more seamless – doesn’t have to be a chore when the app is formulated for this transition. What are your thoughts on the 2 in 1 “debate” – is it a mountain or a molehill, or just moot? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.