Ultramobile PCs plentiful but still not getting respect
Lots of introductions, but not much respect for UMPCs
IDG News Service - Continued criticism by industry insiders didn't stop vendors from OQO to Lenovo and LG from showing off ultramobile PC (UMPC) products with a range of innovative features at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week.
Many of the prototypes on display are due to hit the market later this year, but UMPCs continue to be panned for their inconvenient keyboards, small screen sizes and poor battery life. The first UMPC, from OQO, was introduced at CES in 2004.
OQO this year showed off its WiMax-capable OQO Model 2 UMPC, powered by Via Technologies' C7-M mobile processors and running the Windows Vista operating system. It comes with hard-drive or flash-based solid-state drive options, supports up to 1GB of RAM and has a sliding display that pops up to show a keyboard. Weighing around 1 lb. (453 grams), the device starts at $1,299 (U.S.).
Eyes were locked on UMPC prototypes from companies including Lenovo and Founder at Intel's booth. The Lenovo device includes the Linux operating system from Chinese developer Red Flag Software, and boasts a 4.8-in. touch screen and an onboard camera, among other features. The Founder Mini-Note features a 7-in. screen, a 60GB hard drive, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking. It weighs around 800 grams.
Intel's prototypes are based on its Menlow platform, a code name given to a set of Intel chips for UMPCs due out next year. Menlow will include a new low-power microprocessor, code-named Silverthorne, and a chip set code-named Poulsbo.
One prototype that may never ship is a slider UMPC displayed in LG's booth, also based on the Menlow platform. The device runs Windows Vista, comes with a 4.8-in. screen, 1GB of memory, a 40GB hard disk drive, a touch screen, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G HSDPA cellular data. A representative at the LG booth said the company had not decided whether to market the device because it suffers from poor battery life and keyboard usage issues.
UMPCs create a design challenge by virtue of being a "tweener" -- neither a cell phone nor a laptop, said Phil McKinney, vice president and chief technology officer at Hewlett-Packard's personal systems group. "The UMPCs -- OQO and those guys -- are trying to be too much on the small side, very heavy, not great battery life; they get hot in your hand, too, when you use it. But when you get north of 9-in. screens, you're getting pretty close to a laptop," McKinney said.
Screens up to 7 in. are not an appropriate scale for touch-based applications, McKinney said.
UMPCs have floundered around because a killer application for mobile devices hasn't been discovered yet, McKinney said. "There's a lot of people coming out with products. I don't think anybody's found what the killer application is or what that killer-use case model really is," McKinney said.
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