The MODBOOK(Modified MacBook brings Tablet computing to the Mac)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 Posted by Aman Jain

Ever Since its arrival and departure of the Newton in the 1990's a small but vocal group of Mac users as clamored for a tablet Mac.Thus far,their pleas have fallen on deaf ears at Apple leaving tablet enthusiasts to take matter into their own hands with expensive and time consuming Mac modifications .But now two companies have teamed up to create a product that may finally satisfy Mac users who dont have the cash or time to spend on building a Tablet of their own.
Axiotron( and other World computing ( have unveiled the ModBook- a Pen sensitive Mac that comes with special hardware and software but no mouse or keyboard.Instead ,you use the included digital pen to enter text and control applications .
The first Modbooks wont be available until April,but Macworld got a hold of a preproduction model.

What it is?
The ModBook is a stock apple MacBook that has been given a radical makeover by axiotron .So the system's inside's are basically the same as MacBook’s though its outside has undergone some drastic changes .
Axiotron removes the top of the MacBook including the display and replaces it with a bezel made of an aircraft grade magnesium alloy.In place of the MacBook’s LCD screen ,Axiotron installs a new display with the same 13.3 inch size and 1280 by 800 pixel resolution as the original .The new display uses ForceGlass ,which has been chemically strengthened and etched for improved longetivity ,scratch resistance ,writing sensation and reflection .It features a wider viewing angle than the MacBook’s screen and has 500:1 contrast ratio.

Even with this changes ,the Mod Book matches the MacBook’s 5.2 pound weight .The tablet is .08 inches thicker .Since the bottom half of the ModBook is a MacBook.,the ports –a magSafe power port ,a Gigabit Ethernet port ,a mini –DVI output connector,a FireWire 400 port ,two USB 2.0 ports ,a combined optical digital audio output port ,built in speakers and a security slot are unchanged .

There’s no cover for the ModBook’s screen ,but it seems sturdy and strong.Still you ll probably want to get a sleeve for it.

How it works?

Axiotron has mounted a Wacom Penabled sensor underneath the ModBook’s display-this is where the magic happens .The sensor’s resolution is 20 times higher than the displays and positioning is updated 133 times per second.It also features 256 levels of of pressure sensitivity .

The ModBook’s included pen is powered by the the tablet’s digitizer board –it doesn’t require a battery of its own ,and it is activated only when you bring it within an inch or so of the display.The pen has programmable side buttons ,and its top functions as an eraser.On the bottom left of the ModBook is a slot that holds the pen when its not in use .Placing the pen in the slot turns the digitizer board off to a prolong battery life.

Also under the hood is the ModBook Controller board ,which is like the motherboard for the ModBook’s section of the computer .It uses USB 2.0 as its internal system bus and as its interface with the MacBook.It controls power management and connects the ModBook’s components with the functions of the underlying MacBook .Axiotron doent discard the Macbook;s built in iSight camera when it removes the top of the laptop .Instead the company integrates it into the design by installing it in the center of the ModBook’s bezel,right above the screen .The front of the ModBook features two buttons at the far left –the Modkey which will reset the ModBook Controller Board without restarting the computer and a power key ,which works like the power button on the mancBook .Next to those buttons are three color status indicator lights ;the top green light brightens when the digitizer board detects the pen .the middle light shows that the modbook controller Board is working and the bottom red light shows the status of the ModBook’s GPS module .

That’s another significant change to the MacBook –some ModBook modls will include a GPS module and a menu item that displays your current longitude and latitude .Because the ModBook’s metal case blocks wireless signals the top of the case has two areas of Mac Book like plastic ,underneath which Axiotron has placed an array of antennas for Wi-Fi,Bluetooth and on models that include the module –GPS.

How it performs ?

MacBook owners will find their time with the ModBook both strangely familier and just plain strange .Take the simple act of carrying it around –cradling the Modbook in the arm feels quite different from walking around holding the MacBook like a tray.At the same time ,the ModBook’s weight and size felt natural in the hands .The tablet definitely got pretty warm with use but no warmer than my MacBook.The most obvious difference between the Modbook and a Macbook is the way you input information into the computer .Some tablet PCs have a screen that flips over to reveal the keyboard ,but there is no such device here .
All typing and navigation must be done with the pen .The screen isn’t touch sensitive ,so you can rest your hand on it while using the pen but it also means that the modBook is useless without the pen.
There are ways to input data with the pen –handwriting recognition and an on screen keyboard .The first draws upon OS X’s Inkwell technology .You open a window in which you use a pen to write .Afetr you are done writing ,you wait for scribbles to be translated ,make corrections ,and then click on Send to transfer what you have written to the active application .
Another handwriting method ,the write Anywhere feature is activated via a menu bar item or the Allow Me To Ink in any Application option in the Ink preference plane .Write anywhere lets you start writing on the screen .When ink senses a pause ,it sends the input to whatever app you are in .On the plus side ,write Anywhere doesn’t confine you to writing in a Specific window .The draw back is that it doesn’t give you the same ability to fix your text before sending it off.
The gestures tab in Ink’s preference pane gives you shortcut for commands such as Cut ,Copy ,Paste Tab ,Return,and Delete .These gestures are odd squiggles but tapping on one shows shows an animation of drawing it out ,so you can see how they are made .
The second way to input text is to use an onscreen key bozrd such as the OS X’s built in keyboard viewer .Tapping out sentences a letter at a time more like using a cellphone than a computer .Third party virtual keyboards made data entry even easier .AssistiveWare ‘s $59 TouchStrokes and $299 Keystrokes ( were both loaded on my test unit,and they offer many helpful features that keyboard viewer does’nt like the customization and word prediction .It isn’t clear yet whether either app will ship on th ModBook ,but Axiotron says it plans to bundle some software with the final version .
Of course ,if neither handwriting technology nor an on screen keyboard appeals to you ,you could also connect wireless input devices via Bluetooth .Having those input devices handy may be a useful crutch for some people trying to get used to the ModBook.
This isn’t a machine built for writing lengthy emails or composing Word documents .Its aimed squarely at creative pursuits.
Running Photoshop and other graphics apps on the ModBook is much more pleasureable .Anyone who uses a pen based tablet with such apps will likely have little trouble adapting to the ModBook.And these folks are the users which will most enjoy this product .
Watching a DVD on a ModBook’s screen was a joy .Since the screen takes up most of the front surface ,its like watching a portable LCD.The screen was bright and crisp.and because the speakers no longer have to bounce their outputs off the MacBook’s screen ,their sound was improved .The side to side viewing angle was also good but the vertical viewing angle’s colour and contrast shifts was not as impressive .
The Modbook works just the fine with Front Row ,Apple’s multimedia –management software ,though there is one problem because the remote sensor is in the same place as it is on MacBook,you can’t control the Front Row via the Remote is you stand the ModBook up.

New Frontiers

The ModBook is not designed for the masses –which is why Apple has’nt made a tablet Mac.Because Axiotron assembles each ModBook when it is ordered ,the company can provide a product we are not likely to see from anyone else .People considering tablet should keep its strengths and limitations in mind –and those who buy it will have the unique experience of running OS X on a Mac that Apple have never offered.