UMPCs to replace Tablet PCs? I don’t think so.

Ultranauts recently published a Top 10 UMPC Predictions that while an interesting read I think two of the predictions are dead wrong.  Never one too shy to speak my mind I want to address those predictions head on.

Prediction 8:  The UMPC will reap the rewards of open source and alternate OSs

I think the truth is this will be much harder to do than the author believes.  With every ultra-portable WinXP device I’ve seen to date many open source (Linux mainly) enthusiasts go through huge gyrations to get their favorite flavor of Linux to run on their shiny new little device and they almost always fail to duplicate the usefulness of the original device.  Little PCs like the Origamis often have somewhat tweaked drivers and BIOS to get full functionality out of a very tiny package and Linux often chokes on this.  There just isn’t enough interest to get driver developers to write them for a slightly non-standard hardware.  The Origami also has the touch screen that is designed to be operated with hardware controls, fingertips, and the stylus and there is no equal in the open source OS domain to the functionality the Tablet Edition brings to this table.  Why shackle a device just so you can run a terminal shell on it?  Anyone who tries will immediately give up the fantastic handwriting recognition only available with Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005.  You can’t even come close.  People will certainly try it to prove they can but the functionality they will sacrifice is silly and there will not be a lot of people doing it.

Prediction 10:  In one mighty blow, the UMPC will displace the high-end PDA, the PMP and everyone’s favorite underdog, the Tablet PC.

Not going to happen.  The UMPC/ Origami will never displace the high-end PDA for two simple reasons.  The people who find their PDA indispensable can put it in their pocket and carry it everywhere.  You will never be able to do that with the UMPC, it will always be a little bit too big.  And even if the UMPC eventually evolves to the tiny form that Bill Gates showed us all at WinHEC last year, it will still be too big and it won’t overcome the second reason, that most high-end PDAs these days are phones.  They are a nice size to be carried everywhere because once the PDA is also a phone you HAVE to carry it everywhere.  You will not do that with a device that is even slightly too big, without a numeric keypad and that doesn’t have a battery that will last more than a day.  If the screens on future UMPCs become small enough that the device can be carried in a pocket and used all day then it will limit the usefulness that the larger screen provides.  They are mutually exclusive.

I don’t believe the UMPC will replace the Tablet PC because it’s a totally different market.  Tablet PCs have evolved into powerful laptops that also work in slate mode, a perfect fit for professionals and business users alike.  They are no compromise PCs that provide a lot of efficiency in the workplace and productivity gains.  UMPCs are now and probably always will be too small to do this.  There will be no way the hardware components in the smaller device will be as powerful as those in full-size Tablet PCs and that will not change.  While I think the Origamis will be great machines to carry around and get work done, UMPC owners will always require a powerful laptop or desktop to do the heavy lifting.  A Tablet PC today is powerful enough to be your only computer but the UMPC will not be.  Maybe some day we will see the hardware components get powerful and small enough to make an Origami a laptop replacement but not in the near future.  I don’t think you’ll see an Intel Core Duo processor in a UMPC for a long time, for heat reasons if nothing else.  You would have to carry a full-size keyboard around with you to match the utility of a convertible Tablet PC, not to mention the added benefits of having a larger screen.  Try inking a mind map on a small screen device and you’ll understand.  Let’s face it, a professional or business user doesn’t mind having a full sized Tablet PC or laptop in the office because it provides the horsepower and utility needed to perform any business task.  That’s OK because as Microsoft has stated the UMPC/ Origami is aimed at the consumer market.  Different folks have different needs and I don’t see the two types of devices stepping on each others toes.

 

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