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Old 08-26-2006, 01:31 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Why will people want UMPCs?

I've been thinking. Believe it or not, that does happen every now and then! And the inspiration came from a great post over at JkOnTheRun by Kevin Tofel. He addresses the low rating given to a UMPC device by the Sydney Morning Herald. Like most of the mainstream press, the Sydney Press just doen't get it.

As a big fan of UMPCs, I also think it's appauling the way the mainstream media seems to be so unwilling to understand that this is a new class of device, and that it can't be compared to a laptop, and that it's just plain neat. But the mainstream press isn't the problem. We techies love it because it's really neat. It gives us a small form factor, but with a screen big enough to do "real things." And it has a tablet pc interface at a great price (relative to the cost of tablet PCs).

How about business people and the general public? This is an expensive device. And it will still be expensive when it gets down to the target price range of about $500. It's not the sort of thing many people will leave laying around in the living room to browse the web occassionally. It's too expensive, it needs to be maintained with the latest software patches, and it has to keep getting recharged. You have to wait to boot it up because it's Windows-based. And it's one more thing that will be old technology in a year or two if you don't drop it and break it first!

It's no wonder that the mainstream press isn't really high on the device. They are looking at the average user and what the entire owning experience would be like for them. A laptop has all those same issues, but there are very compelling reasons to have one. They can do the same things they can do on the well-understood and much-used desktop PC, but they have the ability to do it anywhere. MS office, email, design work, writing, etc. The reasons to use a PC are already well-known and entrenched, and it's simple to understand the benefit of a laptop - you can use it anywhere. So even though laptops are more expensive and have to be maintained and accessorized, people still have a strong reason to buy one. Mobility, plain and simple.

What about the UMPC? Let's take a look at what should be the ultimate and most convincing argument for a UMPC's relevance and worthiness - Microsoft's own description of the device and why you want one.

The overview says "With small, lightweight, carry-everywhere hardware designs, you can connect and communicate, accomplish any task anywhere and at any time, and be entertained and informed wherever life takes you." But doesn't that sound like it's covered by a smartphone and a laptop? No motivation there.

If I was marketing for Microsoft, I'd remind people of how ubiquitous and useful the paper planners from Franklin and Day Planner. How about taking that portability, usefulness, ease of use to the n-th degree, and top it all off by giving it the ability to do what a laptop can do for you? At least people can relate that way to something they know about. All of a sudden it's useful in a way they can grab hold of in their minds, even if they don't have a grip on what it all means yet.

Let's look at what else Microsoft has to say if the reader really wants to dig into the details and hasn't already decided that the device is worthless.

Now we're getting into the sort of usage scenarios talked about by Kevin Tofel. Communicate: Wifi at the airport, connect through a Bluetooth phone, e-mail and IM, photo sharing before the vacation is even over. Now we're talking! That sounds pretty cool doesn't it? But somehow, I think that even that looks abstract on the web page if you aren't a techie.

Next up is Accomplish Tasks: Do anything your desktop or laptop can do in Windows, have a trip navigation system, and don't worry about the input because there are lots of ways to use various forms of real and virtual keyboards or by writing on the screen. Again, a nice list that nobody will ever see.

Getting into multimedia, they move on to View/Listen/Play: Sync all your favorite music, photos and TV shows, buy music and movies for immediate download, check news and sports scores, and choose from a huge selection of Windows-compatible games, but have the added advantage of being able to use a stylus for simpler control.

The rest is just basic info that needs to be described about the SW/HW platform. But isn't this the sort of information that should be very briefly provided to the press? I wonder if it is, and how it's presented and packaged. If they did it similar to what I've written above (but filled out and prettied up), then I think people might start to have some Eureka! experiences about how cool this could be. And they might then start to be more open to things like mind mapping software and One Note software.

The public and the mainstream media don't understand the UMPC and keep comparing it in the wrong way to laptops (saying it's too underpowered, the screen too small and input is hard). But maybe the problem is with Microsoft and UMPC sellers. With the rollout of a new class of device, doesn't the burden fall on them to help us understand why it's relevant? They clearly haven't done that very well.... yet. Instead they seem to fall into the failed pda marketing approach of a long list of what it can do, or even worse maybe no list! Techies love that. Normal people don't!

Most people will cringe at spending over $1000 for a high-tech gadget that either looks like a bad laptop or a high-powered electronic pad of paper. Yeah, I know it does more, but Archos makes a better PMP, and iPod is a better mp3 player, etc etc. We have to get past all the little "cool things" people might want to do on it, and find the practical benefit by characterizing it in a way that they can relate to. Or at least something that UMPC can do that other kinds of devices can't. Primarily that means it's more portable than a laptop, and yet it can do everything a laptop can. Yes, the input might not be as easy if you don't have a keyboard attached, but screen input is not meant to be for the novel writer, and keyboards are available. And will eventually be integrated.

People didn't understand why a mouse is useful. But it caught on pretty well eventually. In fact, back in the early '90s I was working heavily with spreadsheets and put in a request for a mouse to easy the navigation. It went all the way up to the CIO and he rejected it, saying that it would not be approved unless I could find research that proved it improved productivity. I guess he wanted to stop it right there, and prevent an onslought of requests from all those Win 3.1 users that want all the latest gadgets. Well, I went out and bought one myself, and the gadgets won out in the end, didn't they!? Maybe touchscreens will become widely popular also. It's too early to tell, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised because it doesn't need to add too much to the cost and with the right future software support and applications it can be very enabling.

So for UMPC, and the general computer-competent public, there is still a big open question that needs to be answered -- "What's the point of a UMPC?" As I have showed above, Microsoft has already done much of the thinking about the reasons for a UMPC. But it hasn't been communicated effectively to the press and the public. That's why I think the media has such a problem reviewing it. There's some truth in what they say based on their perspective.

So why do we want a UMPC? Someone needs to tell us in a way that makes sense. Who's going to step up to the plate and get the message out?
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Old 08-26-2006, 05:43 PM   #2
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Very good thread Bob !

The UMPC has very good chances to make it out there. Specially, as you point out, in the active business world. If you look at surveyors, police, engineers, archeologists etc., wherever one needs info on the go, the tool would perfectly fit. To manage their information gathering at the moment, these people use special tablet PCs and Palms outfitted in rugged sturdier casings. Wearable computing, this is what is needed, the little touch that will make the UMPC more desirable, dare I say irresistible.

When the critics say that the laptop does everything the UMPC does are wrong. To use a laptop you have to set it down somewhere. If you don't agree, try using one standing in line. This is basically what OQO has been basing their spiel on for years, but being classed as marginals, no one really listens.

What we ergonomically need is a UMPC that hangs on the body, meaning that you don't have to hold It to operate it, while you are free enough to continue collecting data between each entry, but still having the computer close enough for easy efficient one hand operation. For now the UMPC does not meet closely enough to the paticularities of theses tasks.

In my opinion where the UMPC suffers most is the two handed white knuckle operation, because it is rather heavy for long use and in a fration of a second, everything can be over, shattered on the ground...being lighter, the palm does not suffer that fate as easily.

The biggest problem with the designers and creators of computing and data contol apparatus, is their urbanite leisure orientation focus. Every concept is ephemeral, has no lasting purpose, thus no seriousness for work.
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Old 08-26-2006, 07:22 PM   #3
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I tell you one link up that a UMPC would benefit from.....poker.
I bought a 10" tablet PC purely because it's small and light and i can leave it on my table downstairs to browse the web, but also to do my hobby namely playing poker online.
These UMPC's are even better for that (That's if party poker can ever get their software to work with the pen input)
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Old 08-26-2006, 08:17 PM   #4
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Nowadays it is all about hype. Everyone is looking for a killer software, killer hardware... But the truth is that beyond hype life does goes on. Personal computing is a matured market so there won't be any major paradigma shifts in the future. New niche produtcs will keep coming (remember the hype around tablets?) and people will keep asking if it will replace the current standard.

This is a niche age, so I see that in the future people will just buy what fits them most. and if it is cheap enough people might even own more than just 1 or2 niche product.

Personaly a UMPC won't give me more then what I get from my Tungsten or laptop. It is not large enough to be used for longer activities and not small enough to be carried around.
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Old 08-26-2006, 09:12 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mariodrss
Personaly a UMPC won't give me more then what I get from my Tungsten or laptop. It is not large enough to be used for longer activities and not small enough to be carried around.
I think you hit it right on the head.

I currently have a TX, a Zaurus SL-C760, a laptop as well as various MP3 players and eBook readers.

I've seen the Nokia 770, the Pepper Pad and such. In every case, I ask "what will it do for me? What need will it fill? What functionality does it offer above and beyond my current devices?"

The only answer is that "it's cool." Well, that's not enought even for a gadget-geek like me. I need it do to something more than what I already have.

It can't be a laptop replacement, but offers the same battery life. So why replace my laptop?
It's much larger than my TX and doesn't offer nearly as much battery life, so no replacement there.

I see no niche that UMPCs fill at all.
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Old 08-26-2006, 11:18 PM   #6
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I fall into the group opinion that the answer will be no, people will not want them. The following are my reasons.

The form of an UMPC is not what the general public wants. This has already been demonstrated by the relative failure in sales of tablet PC's to laptops. Since the UMPC design, as I understand it, will not be pocketable, as opposed to a PDA, that means some sort of carrying case will be required. As soon as that is established, I believe that the general preference will be a laptop, whose form already protects the screen and allows a full size keyboard. These last two features I believe are key.

I recently had the chance to examine SONY's new micro PC. It was an a very handsome device. It was also much bulkier than I had expected when I read about it. Now about the screen. These words come to mind: What were they thinking? It was impressive in its clarity and color, however, it was ridiculously small. The fonts were at best uncomfortable to read. I really could not get past this flaw. Putting a full size OS GUI in such a small screen is not going to sell. A different environment is needed for this medium. That is why the PDA works so well.

I also agree with the sentiment that the UMPC does not fill any niche. Time and time again I read about people wanting a converged device to carry. I don't think that the larger UMPC form will replace the cell phone or converged device, if it is even meant to.

Last edited by akira28; 08-26-2006 at 11:47 PM.
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Old 08-27-2006, 03:27 AM   #7
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Here in the UK you can get the HTC TyTN (WM5) for between UKP20 and UKP120 with a 18 month cellular phone subscription. It has wifi and HSDPA (high speed UMTS) and an okay screen. Pocket IE works very well and its okay for watching videos. So why would I want to spend UKP500+ on a UMPC? I can't see the business case here!
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Old 08-29-2006, 11:14 AM   #8
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Well, I'm a prime example of what is wrong with the UMPC concept. I'm a tech junkie and I write for 2 tech sites (Palm Addict and GadgetsOnTheGo), so I should have a good understanding of what this is all about. I have a desktop computer, a laptop and a Cingular 8125 (HTC Wizard). I just can't imagine carrying one of these things and can't imagine what I would do with it if I had one. Everything I want to do in the portable arena I can do with my Wizard and if I need more then I'll use the laptop.

I still don't get it.
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Old 08-30-2006, 08:08 AM   #9
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Smile Why I want a UMPC

I'll tell you why I am interested in UMPCs
I currently have a Dell Axim 5 that I want to update, I also have a company provided laptop. I am in the car and air a lot, I want something that I can look at quickly to access contacts and other data. Also want something with a GPS that is portable. The laptop is just to big to use while driving and hard to manage in the car. The UMPC seems to fit the bill, the UMPC combines a lot of devices into one. Besides the GPS, I would like to see a nice car mount and a means of accessing XM Radio [ to replace the XM receiver in my car]. In other words, I want get a handle on all of these devices and wrap it into one package. I think this product will do that eventually.
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Old 08-30-2006, 12:52 PM   #10
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DX: This can all be done on my Cingular 8125.

Contacts and data are synced over from Outlook. Also I have various Word and Excel documents on my SD card.
I use a Globalsat Bluetooth GPS and CoPilot for my navigation (other software works well too).
I access XM Radio through the phone's browser at mobile.minixm.com I also have recorded 5 or 6 hours of various XM channels and keep them on my SD card.
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Old 08-31-2006, 02:00 PM   #11
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I tell you what: I would buy an UMPC immediately, if and only if they find a way to increase battery life. The current LCD technology used (CCFL I think) really eats from the battery - and with 1.5 hours or so, the UMPC fails in its original purpose - to be truly mobile.

Also see JK's comment:
http://jkontherun.blogs.com/jkonther...attery_li.html
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Old 08-31-2006, 03:06 PM   #12
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There's a lot of hope for battery life between screen power improvements, battery technology, the new lower power processors, and the lower power radios (wifi/bluetooth/phone).

Even now, I think there is an extended battery available or soon available that will give more like 5hrs battery life. That could add some extra weight and maybe even slightly more bulk, but still it is a good sign that it might not take any unexpected advances to get battery life into a reasonable range for a full day's work.
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Old 08-31-2006, 04:14 PM   #13
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I see the UMPC as one of those leather jackets you might have seen cameramen wear but less bulky. Pouches everywhere with wires going from one to the other where you have many connected batteries and CPUs. You'd have a screen on the arm or display goggles, and a bluetooth "gravity joystick" (that's my invention based on ordinary mouse technology where a ball rolls freely on contacts when you tilt the stick ) in the other hand. Everything could be light and made with today's technology...
No one is courageous enough to market one, because it's not a toy.
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Old 08-31-2006, 04:19 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yvanleterrible
I see the UMPC as one of those leather jackets you might have seen cameramen wear but less bulky. Pouches everywhere with wires going from one to the other where you have many connected batteries and CPUs. You'd have a screen on the arm or display goggles, and a bluetooth "gravity joystick" (that's my invention based on ordinary mouse technology where a ball rolls freely on contacts when you tilt the stick ) in the other hand. Everything could be light and made with today's technology...
No one is courageous enough to market one, because it's not a toy.
Sounds cool to me for private use in a dark room where no one can see you. But I think no one is courageous enough to wear that in public!
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Old 09-01-2006, 03:52 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
There's a lot of hope for battery life between screen power improvements, battery technology, the new lower power processors, and the lower power radios (wifi/bluetooth/phone).

Even now, I think there is an extended battery available or soon available that will give more like 5hrs battery life. That could add some extra weight and maybe even slightly more bulk, but still it is a good sign that it might not take any unexpected advances to get battery life into a reasonable range for a full day's work.
Me thinks they just want to milk us more by releasing a 1.5 hr unit and sell the 4~5 hr battery as an 'extended' batt.

If their normal batt is 4~5 hr, they would have to engineer something that last 7~10 hrs for it to be called extended!
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