UMPC, the Ultra Mobile Personal Computer. The design initially came out of Microsoft roughly about an year or so ago, and there were quite a few skeptics who raced to make claims that this would die the same death that the tablet PC had. Though the Tablet PC is quite an interesting form factor, it hasnt taken mass adoption. The UMPC very much seems like its going to beat all the odds and catch up on that adoption curve.
I am usually blamed for not giving enough numbers, so let me start with statistics. The number of laptops that were sold last year saw a massive jump of 85.6% from the year before compared to what is happening with other forms of PCs. For example the PC saw a growth of close to 12-16%. With that backdrop, 85% is quite a significant jump and one that has never happened for a technology so late in the life cycle.
So what does it all mean? Its a given that desktops are gonna head out and more and more laptops are taking up their space. Considering that you can get a laptop for Rs. 30,000, almost at the same price at what a decent desktop costs, I am not surprised at the adoption rate jump. But there might be more to it.
Type UMPC in google image search and hit enter. I am currently getting close to 1.5 million images and all different variations of the same specification. It’s certainly quite interesting to see how many companies are betting behind the adoption of this device.
There are a couple of reasons why I think this would work. For one, the Sony Vaio (the Miniature version) has been providing one with a similar form factor and it is quite well received. It comes at a hefty price tag and there are a lot of up-and-coming executives who are willing to pay something a bit less to join that ivy league. Pride and desire is very well served.
The another might be the fact that the technology and software are quite timely in place. Low power consumption, touch-screen devices which dont cost as much to sign off your firstborn, handwriting recogition technologies which fair quite well, and flash-drive hard disks which bring down the power consumption and the weight of the laptop, all are adding to the glamour of the device in terms of usability and features.
Yet another reason I can think of is the fact that though people fantasized about having tabloid PCs, nobody had the use for one. With a device that can double as a mini-laptop and as a tabloid is quite appealing.
The last and final point would be the fact that for once all the markets are being targetted. Whenever there was a device launched, it would usually serve either the higher segments (Read Vaio) or the lower segments (Read OLPC). The market size in the higher segment is quite small and niche and you are essentially fighting with very well established brands, and if you try to sell something new to the under served markets, they dont want anything but what everyone else is using. In other words, nobody wants retarded or “special” meachines.
But for once, companies are launching products that cater to both the segments, and with equal platform and features specifications that people would be willing to trade options for price points and make their pick. The success of the ASUS EEE PC is a solid proof of that happening.
So is there an opportunity here? You have a touchscreen / tabloid PC, portable device which can connect over bluetooth, wifi and in some cases even over WiMAX, and you have quite a bit of processing power with some generous RAM capacity. The guys who were working on the Simputer should jump to tap into this market. This is the time for them to play their cards. There is definitely going to be a need of applications that can fuel this new platform, especially with the alternative interaction mechanisms it offers/
I am soon going to pick up a UMPC – its all that I need for times when I head out to a barcamp or so. It might be an ASUS EEE, or something else. From whatever devices I have been trying out, I do have a feeling that soon enough I would get quite comfortable with it to use it for most of the time – checking mails, blogging, surfing the web etc. What then would I use a normal desktop / laptop for?
This is probably a time just before laptops and mobile devices merge. If you look at what smart phones like Iphone do, and what devices like the UMPC do – given their form factor, I do have a feeling that we will be seeing them merge quite soon. I am also trying to decide on a new phone and was looking to get either a sidekick or a Sony Ericsson Xperia, and the more and more that I think about it, I cant stop seeing the similarities that devices like the Xperia and Nokia Tablet offer, compared to the UMPC.
There have been enough experimentations which happened and failed in the past, but this time, it might be for real.
Repost from The Author’s Blog
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Just a small point about Krish’s comment. UMPC’s are not SmartPhone / PDA replacements. PDA’s are more or less dead anyway, the only competition could be from SmartPhones.
Couple of things about SmartPhones, that make UMPC attractive are:
1) video-out port for your presentations. UMPC’s are becoming reduced-footprint general-purpose Laptops. Weighing roughly half or less of typical laptops, their portability is improved. There are still a lot of Projectors that don’t hv USB/WiFi/Bluetooth for video-share.
2) there is a limit to the kind of applications you run on SmartPhones or PDA, largely due to screen-size, and to some extent due to computing power, memory size, UI mechanisms. UMPC’s capabilities are quite close to usual laptops, if not same, unless of course, we start talkign about gaming, CAD etc. But Gamers and CAD designers use 21″, Quad-cores+4GB, dual-Radeon w/SLI etc., not your regular Laptop.
Couple of things about UMPC’s that still works against it’s attractiveness:
1) Price difference with regular Laptops is very marginal, or sometime at par. So, there are many people, who’d be willing to lug-around some more weight, for lot more functionality/performance & better ergonomics. I know a buddy, who travels quite a lot, and his laptop has roughly 100 full-length movies, to entertain him during his trips to desolate boring wastelands. Try doing that with a UMPC (yeah, maybe in couple of years). The typical 7″ screen though is generally good enough for personal movie watching.
2) Of course, they don’t fit into your shirt/pant pocket and indeed, cannot be used with one hand, but they are still the size of your samll-sized Eagle-diary, and can be carried easily. Another very good point you make is about “power”. Most of the UMPC’s standard battery lasts for max 4hrs under ideal conditions… that’s again, unlike SmartPhones/PDAPhones or PDAs, and we all know that Battery technology hasn’t evolved as fast as rest of the computing h/w technology has.
UMPC term itself, I think is older than a year, and prior to the M$ design, IMHO there were several other initiatives that could very well fall under the UMPC category. I remember stopping over at Hong Kong more than 2 years back, and seeing some Taiwanese UMPCs on display at the duty-free shops. They featured some ultra-low-power processor, which ran a certain custom flavour of a Linux distro. However, I guess, it’s just started gathering some critical mass. The “ultra-portables”, which CEO’s and VP’s used to tote-around… are getting shrunk a bit more, being stripped-down a bit, and prices are coming in the “commodity computing” range. Also the thing that is changing, is that more and more of these UMPC’s hv started running the usual Linux distros, and M$ Windows etc., and with the ability to install / run, pretty much any kind of software, as-long-as they are not too resource heavy. They are becoming more and more “usable” and “useful” (many of the earlier UMPC didn’t hv a video-out, for e.g.). The keyboard dimensions are stabilizing to acceptable sizes and other ergonomics are improving. So, I guess you are right, the market might warm-up to these.
People are beginning to have a city-commute car, and a out-doors-long-drive-offroader for weekends. So for 15grands, many people might find a small tote-along UMPC for PPT presentations, emails & internet on the go, with a usable screen-size and keyboard size. I know a lot of ppl who hate the stylus.
UMPC is an attempt to create a new market. But it is not an empty market. It is occupied at one end by notebook PCs, and at the other by smartphones and PDAs. Where will it fit in? Where is the need?
Weighing around 850g, UMPCs are too heavy to be held one handed for more than a few minutes. Holding the device in two hands, however, greatly reduces the effectiveness of the touch screen, because you can’t reach most of it. (If you’re here from a smartphone and used to single thumb navigation, this will likely drive you nuts).
You have the ultimate pointing device here: a touch screen. It’s the only input device that lets you simply point at what you want. Until we have USB ports on the back of our heads, things won’t get any simpler than this.
Unless you want to lug around a brick, the chances are you’re recharging it daily. Enable WiFi, BlueTooth, WWAN and whatever else, we need AAA-size disposable fission reactors to keep these guzzlers awake.
Most miniature devices have high TCO. Check out punishing telco WiFi and data plans. The device may cost under Rs.20,000 ($500), but you’re in it for a good 2x or even 3x to run with it.