What ultra-portable PCs will need to succeed

I’ve always been interested in mobile technology and anything that can improve my experience on the move. I’ve been a heavy handheld user for years, in fact the money I’ve spent on handheld devices over the last 10 years would feed a small country for a day. I’ve owned Sharp Wizards, an Apple Newton, HP 95LX (one of the most useful handhelds ever developed), a Casio E-125, HP 620 HPC, and Toshibas e740, e755, e805 (my current device). I’ve given a lot of thought about the new UPCs (ultra-portable PC) that are scheduled to be released ADN (any day now) and whether they might replace the PPC for most consumers.

I’ve posted in the blog about why I don’t think they will replace them for a number of reasons I think are key for mobile users and in this article I’d like to explore what UPCs will need to excel.One of the things that help mobile devices to be successful is software. Users need good programs that fill key roles and help them to be productive. PPCs have been successful because the software is usually easy to use, and allows the user easy access to their information. PIM programs on the PPC are very good at giving a complete overview of your schedule, tasks, and contact information. It’s easy to add new information on the move as you acquire it, and to access it later. Good programs also exist to access business information such as documents and spreadsheets, allowing you further access to your essential information. All of these programs have been developed with several goals in mind: easy to use, easy to maintain, and to take advantage of the small screen.It’s the last goal that I think is critical and why UPCs may not fill the role that consumers think they might. While it will be nice to have a full blown Windows XP device at your beck and call, you will still be using the programs developed for intended use on large screens. For example, I love Outlook 2003 on my desktop. I love the 3 paned interface Microsoft developed for this version as it gives me a lot of information on one screen. But this interface was never intended to be displayed on a 5 inch screen and I doubt it will even work well. I think we’ll find the same to be true for many different types of programs that will be run on these little computers. We will lose the edge we have on PPCs because the programs are not optimized for the limited screen real estate like PPC software is. And even though PPCs can multi-task like these UPCs the reality is that you are likely to only display one program window at a time. So the Windows XP operating system will end up being overkill for most purposes. And we shouldn’t overlook a very important fact when comparing the software of the two platforms- price. The average price of PPC software is probably around $25 – $30. MS Office on the UPC will set you back about $300. One thing I’ve learned from PPC users is that people have a mental block accepting that programs for such a small device can be expensive. Time will tell if this holds up for UPCs.I’m looking forward to having some hands-on time with one of these new UPCs to see how they might make me more productive but until then, I cannot help having doubts about which platform will serve my needs better.

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