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Summary:

I had to laugh when I saw Gizmodo (followed by Engadget) finally realize something we’ve known since 2006 and the name "Origami": the naming of portable device categories is way out of hand. I pretty much let the topic go over the weekend, but then Sal, […]

Samsungq1ultrapremiumI had to laugh when I saw Gizmodo (followed by Engadget) finally realize something we’ve known since 2006 and the name "Origami": the naming of portable device categories is way out of hand. I pretty much let the topic go over the weekend, but then Sal, one of the great writers behind Geek.com, shot me note that he put his thoughts on the topic out there. Hopping over to Sal’s personal blog, I saw that he did a solid job at breaking down the categories.

Let me now backtrack just a second to this past Friday where I worked in a Starbucks for a few hours (blogging, not making coffee). As I always do when on the run, I had my Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium with me. No less than four people stopped and asked me what it was. My stock and technically accurate answer was "it’s called an ultra-mobile personal computer". Wouldn’t you know that all four people responded with the same comment of "oh… but is it a notebook?"

The fact is that to most consumers there are two types of computers: desktops and laptops. For sake of argument, I’ll switch notebook for laptop here; most would agree that they mean the same thing to most people. So aside from differences in architecture, what’s the biggest differentiator between desktops and notebooks? Portability. See, a device is either portable or it’s not. Yes, a desktop is portable in the truest sense, meaning you can break it down, move it and set it up somewhere else, but you can’t easily use it while being mobile, right?

Assuming that I’m mostly correct with the last statement, a notebook is therefore usable while mobile and a desktop is not. So what’s the purpose of putting the word "ultra-" in front of mobile? I suppose it’s to tout the "easier to carry" and "can be used in smaller workspaces" features that a smaller device can bring over a larger (but still portable) one. But really, when you think about it: isn’t that just a marketing term? Put another way: can a woman be ultra-pregnant? No… she’s either having a baby or she’s not. So, "ultra-" anything doesn’t mean all that much to me… unless you’re saying I’m ultra-talented, ultra-good looking, or something else positive with the word "ultra-" in front of it. No… I didn’t think you were.

And there’s the older and more acceptable term of "sub-notebook". I look at the Asus Eee PCs, the HP Mini-Note, and others when I hear this term. But as Sal astutely mentioned, he’d consider the 7-inch Eee PC to be in this genre, but what about the 8.9- or 10-inch? I can live with "sub-notebook", but again, I think most consumers would look twice when you said "sub-notebook". I keep it simple when folks as about my Eee; I just tell them it’s a small notebook computer. "Sub-" could mean less functions, less quality, less reliability, or as Warner jokingly mentions: underwater abilities.

Let’s look at this from the other side of the coin. Recently, we gave away a HP Pavilion HDX notebook computer. The screen is over 20-inches and the device weighs around 15 pounds. It’s heavy, but it’s portable, right? Did we call it a "portly notebook" or a "hefty notebook"? Nope, it’s a notebook. A darn big one, but nobody saw fit to create a new class name for it, did they?

In the end, I’m happy with as few categories as possible as they’re the least confusing. And if you doubt that just look at the auto industry and their definitions by car size: are there enough choices for you? I like desktop and I like notebook. I can live with "sub-notebook", but "ultra-mobile" has long lost it’s luster for me. And don’t get me started on MID, or Mobile Internet Device. Technically, every phone with a browser that can access the web is a MID in my book. Or is that sub-book? Oy!

  1. I just tell people that it’s a computer, a full Windows computer, probably more powerful than what’s on their desks at home (assuming they have Celeron, 512 MB, and whatever for a hard drive, details they don’t understand most of the time).

    I make the font size big, and push it in their faces, and tell them life is incomplete without appropriate technology. If they’re still standing in silent awe, I fold up my Stowaway keyboard use the stylus. Or if the keyboard wasn’t open, I open it in a gentle snap.

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  2. To me, portable literally means “runs on batteries”. In that regard, the HP Dragon OMG WTF BBQ 20″ monster is still a portable, while a 20″ iMac is not.

    As for sub genres of portable personal computers (i.e. runs on batteries), I break it down like this:

    * in hand/palm operations – Smartphones, PDAs, PMPs, MIDs, UMPCs, subnotebooks up to 8.9″ LCDs
    * in arm/lap operations – 10.1″ ~ 15.4″ LCDs
    * On a desk/table operations – 17″ LCDs and up

    Fairly simple if you break it down like this.

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  3. Anton P. Nym Sunday, June 1, 2008

    I too have dropped “UMPC” when talking about my Q1. I either use “Origami” when trying to be specific as to type, or just call it my laptop. I never did like UMPC as a term, as it’s not terribly mellifluous and only vaguely descriptive.

    — Steve

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  4. MathProfJohnson Sunday, June 1, 2008

    I get asked about the Samsung Q1Ultra all the time. I was in a mall in Jacksonville, FL last month and a couple stopped and just stared. I usually say “it is a real computer” when they say “huh?” I say “look it runs on Vista”.

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  5. turn.self.off Sunday, June 1, 2008

    i have seen the term luggable used jokingly on computers like the dragon…

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  6. Interestingly, the debate in my office is over the term “Notebook” vs “Laptop”. I’m adamant that we refer in our documentation to the supplied “Notebook” but my colleagues insist “Laptop” is the only word our customers will understand. Any ammunition that you can provide would be well received.

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  7. Gavin Miller Monday, June 2, 2008

    At the end of the day, there’s laptops and desktops. A desktop sits on or under your desk and is mains powered.

    A laptop is the computer you stick in your case/bag. You get big ones, medium size ones and little ones. A small number may not even have a keyboard.

    Seriously, do we need to have any more than this. Everything else is just attempts at ‘marketing’ when 99% of the population couldn’t care, and never will care, less.

    Also, calling a lappy a ‘notebook’ is just an attempt to make it sound posh. Like calling a house a ‘villa’, as property sellers here in Scotland do.

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  8. Actually a woman CAN be ULTRA pregnant.
    since the normal is one baby any woman pregnant with twins triplets etc could be call extra or ultra pregnant. Its just all words and sometimes the words fail to describe the reality so then we just make new words

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  9. Why not do it by the wieght of the unit?:

    5 pounds = dude, just set it on a table!

    My tuppence for today!
    ;)

    Woadan

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  10. Hmm, symbols confused that last post…

    Less than 3 pounds equals arm friendly

    Between 3 and 5 pounds equals shoulder-bag friendly

    Greater than 5 pounds equals dude, just set it on a table!
    ;)

    Woadan

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