UMPCs: The Promise -- and the Uncertainty -- Remain

Carl Weinschenk

The ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC) category has not shaken off the identity crisis it experienced two years ago when it launched. The challenge was -- and is -- staking out a spot halfway between the increasingly attractive and powerful handheld devices and laptop devices.


The category has bifurcated into two subgroups: devices carrying the UMPC label and mobile Internet devices (MIDs). The former are more fully featured, while the latter run "lighter" operating systems specialized for a narrower set of applications.


While many people accept that basic definition, there still is a lot of uncertainty on precisely what UMPCs and MIDs are. Witness this Engadget post and the response from GottaBeMobile. Engadet provides a nice set of bullet points defining the two categories through the eyes of Intel. The blogger at GottaBeMobile criticizes the piece because MIDs simply aren't defined yet and any insight provided by Intel will obviously serve the company's purposes.


Datamation provides another good example of the discontent in the UMPC world. It is a reaction to what the author saw in the way of UMPCs at the CES Show earlier this month. He says that vendors are getting it fundamentally wrong. The trend is to pack as much into the devices as possible. This, he suggests, is the wrong way to go, and provides seven suggestions for vendors, including: Devices must cost less than $500; favor a big keyboard over a big screen; and be solid state (to eliminate the fan and reduces the weight).


PC World captures the segment's continued identity problems. The first part of the piece describes the new Model 2 UMPC from OQO and prototypes from Lenovo and Founder. The next element sums up the continuing challenges to the sector. UMPCs are a "tweener": Neither a cell phone or a laptop. They still are seeking a "killer app" that will give them a unique purpose and put these identity issues to rest.


Since the definition of a UMPC is still fluid, vendors and commentators can stretch the meaning a bit. The fluidity also is an opportunity for new companies to enter the fray. Mobileslate suggests that a big player may be coming. It just may be, the commentator suggests, that the introduction last week of the super-thin MacBook Air it is an interim step to an Apple UMPC. The takeaway is that Apple has recognized the importance of creating a small and powerful device and could eventually bring its considerable design sills to bear on the category.


There is a lot of negative press about UMPCs -- though there seem to be a good number of devices being introduced. This story in The Register has about as positive a spin as possible at this point. The usual theme ("When will these devices create an identity?") is replaced by a much brighter assumption: Cell phones and notebooks are evolving toward a common point -- the UMPC -- and that chip makers must protect their futures by putting lots of money into the category. The piece says that UMPCs probably will be mass market devices beginning in 2011. The bulk of the story looks at the current jockeying for position among companies looking to supply vendors. Intel and Qualcomm are the key targets of the analysis.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 22, 2008 7:13 AM Valto Valto  says:
Good article. I wrote about this term issue in my blog few weeks back as well and I'm also runing a "term poll" to see what term get the most votes. Reply

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