Pay Attention to Terminology When Shopping for UMPCs

Carl Weinschenk

We've said many times that the barriers between how consumers and businesses use devices are eroding. This release, which advertises a report from ABI Research, suggests that new fault lines are forming, at least in the world of ultra mobile personal computers (UMPCs). The study says that within the uber-category of ultra-mobile devices (UMDs), UMPCs now sit alongside mobile Internet devices (MIDs).


There is quite a distinction between the two. UMPCs run Windows, support business applications, and are aimed at the workforce. MIDs are more likely to run Linux and are aimed at consumers. Less expensive MIDs will represent the most units shipped by a wide margin, the story says. Both UMPCs and MIDS will offer Wi-Fi, WiMax and cellular connectivity.


The research suggests the wide variety of user types and applications. The users mentioned in the release ("frugal generalists," "lifestyle boomers," "soccer moms," "Gen Y social networkers" and "multimedia enthusiasts") all come from the MID, or consumer, side. The majority of the applications mentioned, however, cut across the MID/UMPC divide. These include Web browsing, music, navigation, voice, e-mail, IM and vertical commercial applications.


The main point of this post isn'the potential of the small form-factor computer sector (though some news is included below). Rather, it is about the need to stay attuned to the definitions folks use. While this is not the most important element of the discussion -- that, of course, is whether a particular device is helpful to a business -- knowing the lay of the land will help in the research and purchasing process. For instance, if one category of device is primarily sold to consumers, support for business users may be poor.


In the world of UMPCs, that nomenclature is far from settled. In this ZDNet advance story on the Intel Developer Forum to be held in San Francisco, the writer makes a brief reference to MIDs -- but says that they were "formerly known as UMPCs." It is unclear if he means that MIDs have entirely replaced UMPCs or that they represent the subset aimed at consumers. It also is possible that the writer simply wasn't aware of the ambiguity of his phrasing. The point is that enterprises should be aware of this fuzziness and make sure they know precisely what vendors are showing them.


There is no shortage of news on the UMPC/MID front. Earlier this month, OQO updated its model 02. This story says it is the world's smallest PC that can run Windows Vista, though it does not attribute that claim to any source. The story details increases in storage capacity, processor speeds and wireless data transfer speeds for various versions of model 02.


General Dynamics earlier this month introduced the GoBook MR-1 ruggedized UMPC. The device was introduced at a military fair, and the first half of this piece in The Register describes some of the awful things it can survive (such as being soaked in bleach after being exposed to VX persistent nerve gas).


Shoppers for UMDs should look at more than features on specific devices. Clearly, these devices do marvelous things, but that functionality truncates battery life. This GottaBeMobile post links to two others that offer utilities for tracking operational time. One of these posts offers tips on increasing how long the Samsung Q1 series can run between charges.


This long Hello.World posting -- along with a number of interesting responses -- describes why the writer is thinking of moving from a PDA to a UMPC. Essentially, the writer is looking at UMPCs because of the desire to run applications generally used on PCs and is tired of squinting at a tiny screen. The heart of the piece is a nice table comparing the RAON Digital Everun and the OQO 02, two devices that he was considering buying.


The chart picks winners and losers (or calls a draw) and offers comments on a tremendous number of features (CPU, RAM, operating systems supported, standard and extended battery life, dimensions, weight, design, screen, screen type, native resolution, external resolution, zoom, docking station, camera, storage, compact flash, noise, heat, wireless connectivity, microphone, auto-rotation, auto-brightness, keyboard, integrated pen and base and preferred model pricing). This serves as a perfect template for corporate shoppers.


The bottom line is that the UMPC category seems to be morphing into a catch-all. It is an expanding arena, and potential corporate users are advised to follow the definitions used by companies in this field almost as much as the features themselves.

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