Tablets are in a period of evolutionary growth, with each successive model just a bit better than its predecessor. But revolutionary change is on the horizon, with the first signs of it on display at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.
Tablets are primarily controlled with fingers, as it’s hard to beat the convenience of just reaching out and touching the screen. But fingertips aren’t precise enough for drawing, and writing text with a finger isn’t ideal, so the pen/stylus has been making a comeback.
The downside of the pen is that today’s slim and light tablets don’t have room for slots to hold them so they are something else that the user needs to carry around and keep track of. Fortunately, Lenovo has come up with a solution that combines the advantages of fingertips and pens.
The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 that was unveiled at CES is the first with AnyPen, technology that allows almost any object to be used as a stylus. This means that the pen or pencil that’s already sitting on the user’s desk or in their bag becomes the accessory they need to take a few quick notes in OneNote, make a quick sketch, sign their name, or just tap a tiny on-screen checkbox.
We tried this new technology out at CES, and it performs exactly as advertised. We were able to write on the Windows tablet’s screen with a pencil, a spoon, and even a knife. A cheap ballpoint pen didn’t work because its plastic case didn’t conduct electricity, a requirement for Lenovo’s tech.
AnyPen isn’t pressure sensitive, so it won’t replace dedicated drawing pens, but it has the potential to make using tablets significantly easier … so easy that other companies are almost certainly going to follow Lenovo’s lead and introduce models with similar technology. The ability to use nearly any object as a stylus could be ubiquitous in just a few years.
Eye Tribe Eye Tracking
Also at CES, a company called Eye Tribe was demonstrating an accessory that can track where a tablet user is looking, and use that to control the device. Eye-tracking may be the only method that’s genuinely better than touch: all the user needs is their eyes, and it doesn’t leave skin oils on the display.
But this technology is still in its infancy, so it will likely be years before it’s widespread. At this point, there’s no good method to register a click or tap, so while the device can determine what the user is looking at, pressing an on-screen button still requires touching the display.
Nevertheless, the prototype that Eye Tribe was demonstrating at CES was quite functional; we spent several minutes playing Fruit Ninja without ever touching the screen.
Eye tracking is unlikely to ever become the only method of controlling the tablets of the future – entering large amounts of text with just eye movements seems like it would be more work than it’s worth, for example. But it has tremendous potential to save users from having to touch their screens when performing quick tasks like scanning through incoming messages or checking the weather.