Is There Room for Compact Computers?

Carl Weinschenk

The good news in this Associated Press story -- posted here in the Louisville, Ky. Courier-Journal -- is that people are asking the right question when it comes to portable computing devices: What is small enough and what is too small?


The story details a number of mobile computing devices, including a new version of the FlipStart compact computer that is nearing release. The piece focuses on the tradeoffs between portability and functionality.


There are no easy answers for consumers, and even fewer for business travelers. To start with, corporate users may just not be the type to use portability devices of their own volition. Secondly, corporate mobile applications -- such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) -- are increasingly complex.


The piece is most interesting when it deals with the miniaturization of keypads and screens. The story makes clear that fortunes will be lost and won on getting these delicate and subtle issues right. The questions revolve around such basic issues as how much hardware is necessary, how that hardware can be miniaturized, and how software can be streamlined in order to make it appropriate for a mobile environment. The takeaways are that a tremendous amount of creative thinking is going on -- but there is just so much, ultimately, that can be done.


All of these are important issues with no easy answers. At the same time, the devices -- which include the ultramobiles and the tablet PCs -- are being squeezed by smartphones on one end and traditional laptops on the other. Few people deny that ultraportables and similar devices are perfect for certain niches, such as health care, because they provide true computing and true portability. The problem is that if enough of the rationale is shaved off, the entire category may continue to struggle.

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