In the December 5 edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, I looked at several aspects of the Tablet PC platform: the Microsoft Office XP Pack for Tablet PC (Tablet Pack), Tablet PC speech features, and gestures. This time, I look at Tablet PC development considerations, including application functionality and the Tablet PC software development kit (SDK).

You can use any Windows XP-compatible application on the Tablet PC platform. You can use the Tablet PC's pen to manipulate menus and application features, and you can use the Tablet PC Input Panel to input text. As I discussed in the December 5 commentary, to access the Input Panel, you simply move your pen back and forth quickly above the screen. The Tablet PC transmits the words you write to the application you're using. However, if you want to take advantage of the power of the XP Tablet PC platform, you need to develop a custom application (or buy a specifically developed application) that lets you leverage the full functionality (e.g., signature capture) of Digital Ink.

You can use Microsoft Visual Studio .NET or Visual Studio (VS) 6.0 to develop Tablet PC applications. If you use Visual Studio .NET, your application will be able to leverage the Microsoft .NET Framework. If you use VS 6.0, your applications will be based on COM Automation Objects. These two types of applications are commonly known as Managed and Unmanaged applications, respectively. Managed .NET Windows Forms (WinForms) applications are the preferred choice because the .NET Framework provides an easy environment for development. WinForms applications are client-side applications, so application execution and data storage occurs locally on the device. This client-side approach lets you integrate your custom Tablet PC application with other applications, such as Microsoft Outlook XP, on the Tablet PC. Another advantage of this client-side approach is that your application will have complete offline functionality on the Tablet PC, without network or wireless connections. You can store data in various client-side databases, but the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) is preferable. Using the MSDE lets you store and manipulate data in a local relational database, then use Merge Replication to synchronize the data with a Microsoft SQL Server system.

To incorporate Digital Ink functionality into your custom Tablet PC application, you need to use the Tablet PC SDK, which you can download for free from Microsoft. The Tablet PC SDK includes sample code, demonstration applications, and documentation. The Tablet PC SDK also includes various APIs that you can use to incorporate Tablet PC-specific functionality into your WinForms applications. These APIs fall into three basic categories:

  1. Ink collection
  2. Ink data management
  3. Ink recognition

These APIs let you directly integrate pen input into custom applications. Functionality can include capturing and recording signatures and using the pen to enter text directly into your applications' fields. For more information about these APIs, go the following URL.
http://msdn.microsoft.com

You can now fully realize the power of the Tablet PC platform. For example, my team developed a custom Tablet PC application for sales force automation (SFA). The application integrates with Microsoft Outlook (for calendar viewing and sending email) and MapPoint (for obtaining driving directions and maps). Sales personnel can review customers, schedule sales calls, find directions, and enter orders directly on the Tablet PC. This functionality significantly improves productivity and was possible only by using a custom application.

We'll be taking next week off, but Mobile & Wireless UPDATE will return January 2, 2003. Until then, happy holidays!