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Summary:

The initial flurry of UMPC reviews are out and enthusiasts everywhere are asking themselves “why don’t these reviewers get the premise behind the UMPC?”  Almost every review I have seen of the Samsung Q1 (why these reviewers are largely ignoring the TabletKiosk eo is beyond me […]

The initial flurry of UMPC reviews are out and enthusiasts everywhere are asking themselves “why don’t these reviewers get the premise behind the UMPC?”  Almost every review I have seen of the Samsung Q1 (why these reviewers are largely ignoring the TabletKiosk eo is beyond me since it is the only UMPC shipping in the US to date) is quick to point out the lack of a keyboard, low battery life, lack of an optical drive and of course the high price point.  What is driving these observations in the reviews seems to be a lack of perception of what these devices actually are and that is obviously a failure in the marketing.  The UMPC is a totally new class of form factor and one that will likely never compare to the computing technology with which we have become familiar.  It is not a laptop and not a PDA so we have no base to compare it with.

Part of the perception problem comes from the early marketing that generated a lot of excitement and left everyone wondering exactly what these UMPCs would be.  Now we are seeing the reality, as reviewers are getting the early devices in hand, that the only thing to compare them to are other forms of mobile computing but that is just not going to work.  Sure there are cheap laptops that can be had for less than the purchase price of these first Origamis but they are limited in where they can be used.  UMPCs are designed to free the user from those barriers and make them operable almost anywhere.  But it is easy to see why reviewers are downplaying that function, it’s only been possible with a few devices to date (that are easily twice as expensive as these first UMPCs).

What we are looking at is a failure of marketing.  The decision to market the Origami as a platform has created the false sense that all UMPCs are created equal, a perception that is totally false since all OEMs are free to create their own particular device.  We’ve seen some UMPCs with integrated cameras and others with GPS but those are not great enough differentiators to justify higher prices for consumers.  Blame the early statements that Origamis should cost between $599 and $999 for the dissatisfaction of the UMPCs that are costing over $1,000.  A frequent comment you see is “when UMPCs are around $600 I’ll buy one” which is probably generated by the original price range Microsoft threw out there.  The TabletKiosk eo is firmly in the stated price range but no one is mentioning that, at least not in any article I have read.  Sure it is on the high end of that range but it is quite a bit cheaper than any other announced unit, no doubt due to the use of a Via processor and not the more expensive processors from Intel.

Somewhere along the line a decision must have been made to downplay the Tablet PC functionality built into every UMPC.  Maybe this was because the touch screen is more conducive to manual manipulation or maybe it was because there is still a lack of information about the Tablet PC OS in the general public.  Anyone who has used Tablet PCs will tell you it is easily the part of the Origami OS that provides the greatest functionality in a mobile setting. It is the primary reason that a small computer without a keyboard can be used in more settings and with greater ease than either the Touch Pack interface or even DialKeys.  It is just plain easier to ink text than to tap on the screen.  But I don’t see anyone pointing this out in the marketing materials or in any reviews.  When Walt Mossberg  feels compelled to write “in fact, the UMPC, which Microsoft had code-named Origami, is really just a small Tablet PC” you know you have a perception problem when that means very little to the public.

No doubt the next generation of the UMPC will get better hardware and battery life with advancements that are already being developed now but the price point will be the critical point in the end.  I hope we will see Origamis going for $500 or $600 in the not to distant future.  OEMs, don’t be afraid to lose a little hardware capability to achieve this price point.  Consumers are not stupid and will be willing to put up with a slightly slower processor or hard drive if the price is low enough.  The key selling point here should be technology you can use anywhere at a price that many can afford.

The initial marketing buzz for the Origami platform left many expecting some whiz-bang feature that would create a wow factor, something new that had not been done before.  The reality of these first UMPCs is quite the opposite, aside from the mobile form factor they really are just “small Tablet PCs”.  Sure, the Touch Pack is a nice pretty interface that makes it a snap to operate with the fingers, but anyone who has used an ATM machine or a kiosk in a retail store has been using their fingers on touch screens for quite some time.  There is no novelty there.  I have a suggestion for OEMs that would make a killer device with plenty of wow factor and help get the device price for consumers down to an acceptable level at the same time.  Put integrated 3G such as EV-DO into an Origami device and sell it through either Verizon or Sprint (in the US) and watch these devices fly out the door.  Couple it with a decently priced data plan and you will have that special feature that will put the Origami in a special class of its own, which has been the goal all along.  The subsidized pricing that the wireless carriers always offer will make UMPCs available at a reasonable price to consumers and the added benefit of being always connected will highlight the benefits of a truly mobile PC.

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  2. Joe Doaksman Saturday, May 6, 2006

    I’m not sure the enthusiasts are too keen on it either…have a look over here for the smartest discussion I’ve seen anywhere: http://www.gottabemobile.com/CommentView,guid,fb12b7f6-1858-4c8b-9337-260e3b7fd8c7.aspx

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  3. ItsShowtime Sunday, May 7, 2006

    Well, I have been reading about the UMPC for weeks and here is my take on the GARBAGE that is in print about the platform. There are a bunch of haters out there that don’t get it, won’t get it and can not even begin to keep their caveman thoughts out of it.

    Hey, I don’t mind critics for they are supremely necessary. But I take issue to a bunch of yahoo’s who are critical about a design (i.e., lack of keyboard) that is not FOR THEM. If you need a keyboard, get a standard laptop!! Period! There are plenty of choices. But don’t be critical of a platform that is not designed for you. Personally, I love the tablet concept. For those of us who like the Tablet OS, why the heck can you just not let us enjoy it. If you want to be tethered by a keyboard, hey it’s your choice. As a matter of fact, I have a standard laptop with a keyboard and plan to continue using it. Folks it’s about choice. You may be content with a lack of choice, but I for one love choice. I can choose Tablet OS or no Tablet OS, Slate or Convertible, Large screen or smaller screen, heavy or light, dedicated video memory or shared video memory, expensive or lower cost, etc…. The UMPC is designed for those of us who see the usefulness for OUR lives! Not yours. Get over it and Get off it!!!! It’s about having the freedom and liberty to use technology to our benefit. This is a valuable device for what I think is a significantly sized group of people, though not the majority. It’s a “Boutique” item and like all boutique items, it’s not for everyone.

    I also believe that Microsoft screwed this up. They marketed the darn thing like it’s the second coming. Hype, Hype, Hype. Uhhh, Mr. Gates/Mr. Balmer, you let someone in YOUR company market this in a stupid fashion and it’s making things tough on those of us who understand the UMPC and want one. Would you PLEASE stop the insanity, put some bucks into cleaning that up and crush the haters like I know that you can!!! Jeez. This battle of opinions is insane and ridiculous. It’s a computer. So are PDA’s. So are cell phones and so are a lot of other items. Some people like them, others don’t. That’s it period. Some people like BMW, others like Mercedes and others like Ford. Planet Earth is about choices and I choose to stop listening to anyone who complains about a product that is not designed for them. That is such a useless waste of time. Think about it people. You UMPC haters out there who spend your time writing about something you dislike. Hmmm, how is this for a suggestion. Write about something you do like. I’m sure you’ll enjoy that more, be happier and really will be putting your obviously good writing skills to a much better and more productive use.

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