Thoughts on Ultra Mobile PCs

Thoughts on Ultra Mobile PCs
by Jeffrey Graebner

This week, Microsoft and Intel formally announced their new design for what they call Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC). This was the project that Microsoft had semi-mysteriously hyped under the code name “Origami” via a teaser site. These devices, which will ship later this spring, are essentially oversized PDAs running the full version of Windows XP (and eventually Windows Vista) instead of a mobile OS like Windows Mobile or Palm OS.

Like existing PDAs, these devices will use a touch screen with either no keyboard or a thumb keyboard. They will use memory cards as their primary removable storage and miniature hard drives (like the ones found in digital music players) for internal storage. Data transfer and software installation will likely be accomplished primarily via synchronization with a primary PC or over the Internet instead of through optical discs. The first devices are expected to include both wi-fi and Bluetooth for communications. The biggest advantages over existing PDAs are expected to be a larger, higher-resolution screen and, of course, the ability to run regular PC applications.

While this is unquestionably an interesting new product category, the obvious question that is widely being asked is whether or not there is actually going to be much of a market for these devices.. As I look at the description of these units, I realize that I’m likely right in the core target audience for these devices. My instinct is that I probably will own one of these within the next year or so, although there are enough unanswered questions leaving me with doubts that the first-generation models will meet my needs.

As is frequently the case with new product lines from Microsoft, the UMPC concept isn’t entirely original, although their backing and promotion should stimulate substantial growth in this type of product. A couple other companies have already put out tiny miniature-laptops that run the full version of Windows, although not with too much success. Microsoft’s own design is really a progression from the previous Tablet-PC version of the OS. In addition, my own experience with PDAs over the last few years tells me that this is basically the direction that non-cellular handhelds have already been heading.

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