Sad. That’s the only word I can use to classify the mainstream media’s first reviews on the new UMPC devices. Sure there are legitimate issues, such as poor marketing, prices too close or even higher than more powerful laptops, relatively short battery life and potential gaps of no dedicated mouse buttons, but the one common thread seems to be the lack of a keyboard. I wonder if these very people remember learning their letters in grade school. I seem to recall writing them, not typing them.
It’s increasingly clear to me that these journalists that I respect are missing the paradigm shift brought about a few years ago by the Tablet PC operating system. I liken this shift to the one seen in the early 1980s when notebook computers hit the scene. Did any of these reviewers evaluate devices like the Osbourne? If so, did they trash them and say "why would someone want to carry around a computer?" They’re missing the point of the UMPC. It’s not meant to be a full-fledged, all-powerful replacement device, although arguably for some people it could be. It’s meant to extend your computing and Internet experience to places you normally couldn’t.
Before we go any further here, my intent is NOT to suggest that a UMPC is THE end-all, be-all portable computing device. I personally have not ordered one, nor am I likely to just yet. That’s because my computing needs require something with a little more horsepower, so the balance leans towards "computing power" vs. "portability". We can’t have maximum computing power with maximum portability just yet, so as individuals, we have to determine the balance best suited to our needs. In my opinion, the UMPCs hitting the market are a good blend between the two given the hardware available and the prices that consumers are willing to pay. This is the point that many mainstream media outlets are missing: the UMPC is a new class of device and shouldn’t be compared today’s most powerful notebooks. We don’t compare notebooks to desktops in general, do we?
In light of that theory, how about helping me out by educating these folks? Let’s start a list of places, scenarios and situations where a PDA doesn’t quite meet your needs, but a standard notebook computer is too bulky or awkward to open up and use. Think about brief entries where you can ink or use the touchscreen as needed, not situations where you’re writing the next American novel. I’ll start the list with a few, but I’m counting on your comments to help change the mindset of those who just don’t quite get the concept yet.
- Standing in line at the supermarket, you see a magazine headline that a good friend could benefit from. Draft a quick e-mail in Outlook to them.
- Speaking of magazines: you’re out to lunch for an hour of solitude in the park. Great time to catch up on a digital magazine and annotate some interesting points.
- Recording a sight-seeing tour in a vehicle for your family; a tablet and pen is perfect for controlling audio levels on the fly.
- The bus is unusually crowded today on the way to work. Seating is a little tight, so you stand with your arm wrapped around a pole for stability. Did I mention that you’re listening to recorded music on the hard drive and that you want to quickly skip to the next song? That touchscreen really comes in handy.
- You’re a stage director with a digital script. You’re on stage with the actors and find that a particular line of the script just isn’t working and needs a change. UMPC in one hand and pen in the other is mightier than the proverbial sword in this case.