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.




Personally, I see the Origamis stealing mostly from the standalone PDA market, which is already fairly small and shrinking. Connected PDAs will continue to morph into smartphones and that market should grow.

You are right that the Tablet PC market seems to be going heavily towards convertable laptops and I think that that makes sense for most people who might be hesitant to commit to a slate but are more comfortable with a “laptop-plus”.

I do see Origamis taking from the small slate Tablet market in addition to the PDAs, but that market is already so small that I don’t think it’s going to be a big factor.

Unfortunately, given that both the standalone PDA and slate Tablet markets are small, I’m not sure the Origamis are going to make a big splash unless they can really break out and grow that market.

Of course, I still want one. :)

Josh Einstein

I just said the exact same thing about #8 and #10 to Rob! I think alot of these Origami sites are just hoping to become the next Tablet PC Buzz and they don’t realize that Origami is just a small, underpowered tablet.

As for me, I’m as geek as they come but I’m not gonna buy one. It’s not small enough to replace my Pocket PC Phone and it’s not capable enough to replace my tablet.

In all honesty, the Pocket PC Phone (Audiovox XV6600) is gonna be really tough to beat. I complain about its battery life all the time but reality is, it beats Tablet PC or Origami. But it’s my my camera, my portable music player (Napster to go, $15/mo), my orgamizer, and an entertainment device. Oh yeah, and it’s a phone too. :) As far as I can see, this spot in my life has already been filled.

Anton P. Nym

I can see Origamis fitting in to both the low-end Tablet *and* the high-end PDA niches for people who need to watch the budget but want to have that level of power and portability. The first-generation models are a tad pricey for that, but the jungle drums are hinting that the next generation (or even later models of this-gen) will be coming down nicely.

Me, I’m picking up one (probably a Samsung Q1, unless the price really goes squirrelly on May 1) because it fills both those niches plus the ebook, PPC, and (to a much lesser extent) portable video niches all in one package; and because, for once, I’d like to be an early-adopter.

As to getting Linux on UMPCs, well, maybe if somebody gets developing on it… if this form-factor takes off, it might become popular enough that someone will pay attention and grind out the right code to support touch and ink. Me? I’m happy with XP, so that’ll be one that I watch from the sidelines.

— Steve


I totally see eye to eye with your thoughts on both predictions.

Number eight makes me really sad but it is the truth. I’ve got a friend with a tablet who’s got a tri-boot setup with XP, Ubuntu Breezy, and OS Ten. He tends to stick with XP because the tablet functionality just isn’t there with Linux, which makes running it on a tablet over a normal laptop kind of pointless. I’m hopeful this’ll change in the next few months.

Number ten totally makes me wonder what the UMPC will end up being. I’ve gone back and forth between a mini low end tablet, to something like a not-so-thin thin-client. Most people are still going to need an everyday PC to get all of their work done, to these people all the UMPC will be is nothing more then just an extra wireless set of a PC display with touch screen and speakers. If that’s the case, I think the coolness factor of doing your computer work away from your computer will be somewhat short lived for half of this group.

I’d like to see where UMPCs take off (or crash and burn) in the next few years, but seeing from the side lines is as far as I’ll get. Half way to saving up for my Toshiba M4, woot!

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