How Should UMPCs Be Defined?

Carl Weinschenk

Like young actors and actresses hopping tables as they wait for their big break, mobile devices with out-of-the-ordinary form factors are biding their time. And, like those young kids in the diners, it is proving to be a frustrating experience.


In-Stat says the ultra-mobile device is broadening into a family of devices, which the researchers call the ultra mobile device paradigm. Three elements differentiate members of this family: They must run full operating systems, run applications originally aimed at desktops or notebooks, and support unmodified web pages, including Flash and Java applets.


Despite the lethargy of the category, UMPC products keep being released. Perhaps the latest is the LifeBook U810 from Fujitsu. This Gizmodo piece provides information about the product, including its pricing ($999) and release date (Sept. 18). The story includes excerpts from the spec sheet and a review. The writer says that some of the features -- including a fingerprint scanner, integrated Bluetooth capability and VGA camera -- were a surprise for the price.


Another new entrant this autumn will be the B1 from Wibrain. The headline of this brief Engadget piece -- "Wibrain's B1 UMPC: Hideous, Yet Strangely Appealing" -- is as descriptive as many longer reviews. The writer calls it thick and ugly, but well loaded with a Via C7m central processing unit that runs up to 1.6 GHz, a full QWERTY keyboard and other features for the relatively low price of $650-$750.


Further driving home the point that form factors are not set in stone, the HTC Advantage is described in this InformationWeek story as "part PDA, part smartphone, part UMPC and part weird." Specs are included for the Advantage, which is positioned as big enough for basic word processing and e-mail without being a full laptop. It is aimed at supporting a business traveler for two or three days without making them lug around a full device. The Advantage offers an 8 GB hard drive, 128 MB of RAM, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and a 5-inch VGA touchscreen. It is sold for $899 by CompUSA and Amazon and comes unlocked, meaning it can be used on any cellular network.


This Micro PC Talk post directly address the question of what constitutes a UMPC. Indeed, the writer says that the devices that people call UMPCs actually should be thought of as sub-notebooks. The idea is that until the device is small enough to be used for different purposes or carried differently than laptops, it belongs in the notebook classification. The writer compares the Sony VAIO TZ and the Kohjinsha SH6 with this demarcation in mind.


The blogger says that "there needs to be a clear line between Notebook, Sub-Notebook and UMPC." We don't agree. Of course, such delineations are a good thing from the manufacturing and marketing side. The point, however, that the most important group of all -- users -- will be more comfortable with an open category that doesn't dictate the precise parameters of the device. An unstructured approach also will promote developer innovation. This need to have a less structured way of defining devices is implicit in In-Stat's position that the UMPC category should be a "paradigm" set off from other devices by meaningful but purposely general guidelines.

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