Is “Windows Mobile” running on the wrong device class?

Asuseeepc701There’s plenty of great mobile tech news out of Computex; in fact, I’m still kicking myself for not having a passport yet. If nothing else, I think that missing the show will finally push me to get my passport so I don’t miss any other good worldwide events. The new OLPC-like peer from Intel, the Eee PC 701, sounds interesting of course; especially when starting at $200. Then there’s the NanoBook, another 7-inch screen device with a keyboard that should come in around $600. Several near-pocketable devices are in the mix also: the Raon Digital EVERUN and the Amtek U560.

So we’re seeing the product pipeline here and it got me thinking: do we have the wrong operating system to be mobile? Perhaps the OS we need isn’t available just yet….

Let’s actually backtrack to Windows on the phone. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the name "Windows Mobile" doesn’t belong on a phone. "Windows Mobile" is what people want on their mobile computers. Yes, a current WinMo device is indeed a computer, albeit a smaller and underpowered one when compared to a full Windows-based computer. Perhaps the name "Windows Phone" or something like that would better describe it. That would free up the "Windows Mobile" moniker for a leaner, meaner and lighter Windows that fits on these smaller notebooks and handhelds.

What got me thinking about this approach was the following quote from Engadget on the new Intel Eee PC701: "The 7-inch ultraportable is based on an unnamed Intel chipset, and runsregular Windows XP or Linux without a problem, but really shines in its"easy" mode that strips things down to a barebones OS mainly forinternet browsing (sound familiar, Foleo?)."

See that bit about the "easy" mode? That’s where I’m going here. Although the hardware is becoming more mature, there’s only so much performance you’re going to get running a full-blown operating system with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. I’m using those specs as an example as they’re likely what the $200 notebook is going to have.

Make no mistake: I love the ability to run Windows Vista Ultimate on my 7-inch UMPC day-in and day-out. I’m not really the target audience for these lower-priced products that were just announced, however. While much of what I do (web browsing, e-mail, read eBooks, etc….) is just what those products are for, I also like to have the full digital experience: download and play music from the Zune Marketplace, view videos and not worry about stuttering or frame drops, etc…. I’m mobile and thanks to Vista, I can do just about anything with my device that any other notebook owner can do. Of course, that’s with some upgrades and at a much higher cost than what we’re going to see with this next wave of mobile devices. Still, I crave the flexibility to do many computing tasks in many locations; that’s why my UMPC is the most used device I own.

Again, I’m not the target for those devices, since I want my device to do everything. ;) The target audience to me are folks that want to be mobile and use basic computer and Internet functionality. In fact, the phrase "basic functionality" becomes more inappropriate each day as web-based apps become more mature and functional. New offline capabilities increase the usefulness even more, so perhaps the vast majority of target users aren’t as focused on hardware specs as I am. To keep prices down, the OEMs have to limit the hardware capabilities and to effectively do that, perhaps there’s room for a new "Windows Mobile" operating system as it were. Lighter and leaner is the key.

What do you think, is there a time and place for a full version of Windows and a lighter version? Has Nokia’s experiment with the N800 and Maemo Linux proven that Linux is a true contender in this space here? Since Apple can fit the Mac OS X kernel in a phone device, could they enter this space with a portable computing device that fits the bill?