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Summary:

Tablets are likely to dominate January’s Consumer Electronics Show, but there will also be one particular class of product that doesn’t stand a chance of major success: pocketable mobile devices running Microsoft Windows 7. Two key factors continue to keep these devices in the niche category.

ocs1

At the last Consumer Electronics Show, held this past January, e-book readers were the hot item. In six short weeks, the CES returns and I expect to see tablets take center stage; any hardware manufacturer that can make one, likely will show off a tablet. Of course there will also be rows and rows of televisions, digital audio players, netbooks and cameras. Inevitably, there will also be one particular class of product that doesn’t stand a chance of major success, but rears its ugly head at every CES: I’m talking about pocketable mobile devices running Microsoft Windows.

The OCS1 from OCOSMOS, a Korean device manufacturer, is one such device that likely to be vying for attention at CES 2011. According to the specifications found by UMPC Portal, the Windows 7 device sounds great on paper: a high-resolution 5-inch capacitive touch display that slides up to reveal a keyboard, a new Intel Oaktrail processor, 5-megapixel camera, 32 GB flash drive, GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G support. One would expect this configuration to elicit a “nerdgasm” of the highest degree, especially for a mobile device addict like myself, but it doesn’t.

There are two main challenges to a mobile device running an operating system intended for desktops. First, every version of Microsoft Windows to date is designed to run with a mouse and keyboard, and by keyboard, I mean one you can fully touch-type with. Windows 7 does include touch controls, and Microsoft has previously included digital pen support with its Tablet Edition of Windows. Software such as Microsoft’s Origami Experience was meant to bring touch to the tiny desktop, but that failed too. Why? These examples are all add-ons to Windows, not central to the interface design. By contrast, the Android and iOS mobile platforms are completely built around a touch-optimized experience.

The other issue is one of battery life, because all things being equal, a “heavier” and more complex desktop operating system requires more power than a lighter, mobile platform. The OCS1, with its phone-sized battery, for example, is likely to require a recharge after just a few hours. A similar mobile device with comparable specs running an operating system optimized for less-power hungry processors, such as those based on the ARM architecture, might last all day long.

Ironically, carrying a computer in our pockets is actually where we’re heading. However, the most successful examples are smartphones, smaller tablets and other web-connected devices that are optimized for mobile, not desktop, use. That’s why Microsoft is reinventing its mobile platform with Windows Phone 7 (related: our review of the HD7, a Windows Phone 7 handset), which it will reportedly back with more than $400 million in advertising.

As the dominant player in the desktop space, Microsoft can’t afford to miss out on the mobile revolution, nor can Intel, the largest maker of desktop computer chips in the world, which is sitting on the mobile sidelines. Unfortunately, devices like the OCS1 won’t help either one of them; there just isn’t enough room in our pockets for an ill-performing desktop computer.

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  1. Spot on.

  2. I would definitely agree. A standard Windows 7 OS a tablet device will be more damaging to the brand, and attract ridicule from iPad owners in the same way WM6.x does.

    But if the WP7 Metro UI could be utlized with a version of windows it could definitely compete in the tablet world.

    1. The combination of Metro with Windows does sound interesting – as long as it’s not a shell overlay: mobile devices don’t need all the bells, whistles (and overhead) of a full-blown desktop OS.

  3. The Ocosmos OCS7, A Sacrifice To The MID Gods Monday, November 29, 2010

    [...] UMPC Portal and GigaOm] Tweet [...]

  4. There is another element to a successful mobile device:

    Apps.

    It’s not only about the OS itself being multi-touch aware. Every single app on every successful mobile device is designed from the ground up to run on multi-touch. Multi-touch is at the very core of app design.

    Microsoft is now in a woeful situation as far as mobile devices go. Logically, it should put Windows Phone 7 on a tablet. But that OS is only half finished (despite being released). Sales of Windows Phone 7 on phone handsets has been miserable, and if Microsoft put it on a slate, those dismal sales would only continue.

    All Microsoft has left is its desktop Windows, and for the reasons the article above states, it will also fail.

    It has now become clear and undeniable that Microsoft has blown all its mobile options. There are no more second chances. There is nowhere left to go.

    1. Very good point about apps – my take is that you first need an effective mobile OS and framework to support those apps, but optimized apps are just as important.

  5. I would agree that mobile OS is fundamentally different than desktop/server “anchored platforms”–both in resource conservation and in UI. Microsoft would do better to leverage its Windows Phone 7, which by all accounts is the most “right” it’s gotten mobile yet. I would like to draw a distinction that Intel versus ARM processing is not the disparity it once was for mobile. The article seems to convey that an Intel x86 platform is inherently inferior at being a power miser, while I applaud Intel for addressing just the opposite goal with the “son of Atom” derivatives. Unfortunately, their heritage opens these processors to sub-optimal OS platform implementations by vendors taking the path of least resistance. Meego is Intel’s demo and benchmark platform, but I fear it is stillborn as a commercial venue in the shadow of Android. Atom’s progeny are going to be fielded on Android and WinPhone7 if they are to compete. The question is, will the Intel Mobile chips provide any distinct advantage over ARM based chips if the mobile OS optimization detracts from drafting on existing x86 codebase?

    1. Good points, John. I’ve said many times prior that Intel has no mobile OS to bring to Atom, although that changed this year with Moblin merging with Maemo to form MeeGo. We’ll have to see how that pans out.

      And while Intel has made great strides in power efficiency with Atom, ARM-based chips still lead the way. Instead of creating fast, powerful chips and then trying to reduce energy consumption, the ARM architecture took the opposite approach, which is better suited for mobiles: lick the energy issue and then optimize for speed and processing power. I’m curious how Atom will compare with the next gen ARM-based chips that are expected to boost performance up to 5x while reducing power 75%: http://gigaom.com/2010/11/18/look-out-intel-here-comes-qualcomms-next-super-chip/

  6. Richard Garrett Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    I enjoyed using the ancestor of this unit — the HP 100lx. I think what made that device unique (and fun) was its ability to be programmed and adapted to my specific use. While handheld devices have certainly become more sophisticated, the creativity that such gadgets formerly inspired in many individual users (or at least this one) has diminished. Thus a device must be wholly practical and innovative otherwise it fails to attract my attention and dollars.

  7. you write very bad about this promising device.

    if you at least wouldnt talk bad about things we all dont know yet, like battery life. or would mention the really great things, like the two ocosmos control elements, which are indeed designed to let you control the device way better than touchscreen-only devices, but also let you really enjoy any pc game. at this point the gyro- and proximity sensors should be mentioned as well.

    also dont forget that this device can fully replace a pc, by connecting it to a big screen, keyboard and mouse. or to your tv, using a wireless keyboard from the couch.

    of course this is not a device for the easy masses, but more for thinking ppl, who are able to customize things to their needs. especially for gamers, who want to play windows platform games on a handheld.

    i think this device is an honest attempt to make a very good windows based psp styled tiny pc and hope it will be the kickoff to even better devices in the future.

    1. I’m writing based on years of using very mobile, and sometimes pocketable, Windows devices. And we know certain aspects of mobile devices that can be applied to this, or any other similar device in terms of what the power consumption of Intel Atom chips are, how long a battery will last based on capacity, etc…

      Does that mean this might not be a fun gaming machine or useful for a niche audience. Nope, but the mobile market is changing and for the moment, the full desktop version of Windows isn’t in it.

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