Something is bothering me about the UMPC space

25 Comments

This is a very exciting time to be involved in the UMPC space.  There are new UMPCs popping out all over and new players entering the field which will shake up the old school thoughts on UMPCs.  The entry of HTC into the space with the innovative sliding keyboard on the Shift is a very good thing.  HTC is the most innovative mobile device maker around and seeing them turn their attention to the UMPC world will inject new life into the genre.

All of this excitement has me thinking a lot about the space, and what I’m seeing is beginning to bother me.

Keyboards.  It seems that somebody took a secret vote and keyboards won over slate designs on UMPCs.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but what is happening now leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Putting keyboards on UMPCs adds cost, size and weight to the device.  That’s OK as long as the keyboard adds utility but the first few devices introduced with keyboards fall short in my opinion.  Samsung put that weird split thumb board along the sides of the screen of the Q1 Ultra, something that I cannot see adds much value at all.  Text entry on this goofy "keyboard" is no easier than opening up the Vista TIP keyboard and tapping away, even for shorter stuff.

OQO has added a pretty useful sliding thumb keyboard to the Model 02 but even it falls short in the utility department.  Their device design puts so many system functions on the keyboard that even though the OQO has an active digitizer and can be run totally from the screen if so desired you still have to keep the keyboard extended to perform system functions easily.  The keyboard is so small that if you need to enter a lot of text you’ll be reaching for an external keyboard.  This is not a slam on OQO, rather a fact of having a device so small and I appreciate that.

Fujitsu has created the smallest convertible UMPC in the u1010 and on the surface it looks really cool to have a "full" keyboard in a device so small.  The problem lies in how small that keyboard is and the problems that small size creates.  You can’t touch type on that tiny keyboard yet it’s so wide you can’t thumb it very easily either.  It seems like it would have been better to leave the keyboard off entirely and go lighter and thinner.  That would make for an awesome slate UMPC.

HTC has created a very fine UMPC in the soon to be released Shift.  The design has thoughtfully created an awesome device that looks very functional on almost every level.  The only area of concern I have is the keyboard.  My Fujitsu P1610 has an 8.9-inch screen versus the 7-inch screen of the Shift, so I estimate the P1610 is at least an inch wider.  This means that the keyboard on the Fujitsu is at least an inch wider and I find I can just barely touch type on the P1610.  I question if I could touch type at all on the narrower Shift keyboard.

This insistence on including keyboards on these new UMPCs is not necessarily a bad thing but to me integrating a keyboard that is too small to allow touch typing is just wasting space.  Either put a real thumb keyboard for those short tasks where such keyboards suffice or leave them off.  Putting a tiny keyboard with real keyboard-type keys is pretty darn useless, at least it doesn’t add any functionality.  So what’s the point?

25 Comments

Mike Cane

>>>My Fujitsu P1610 has an 8.9-inch screen versus the 7-inch screen of the Shift, so I estimate the P1610 is at least an inch wider. This means that the keyboard on the Fujitsu is at least an inch wider and I find I can just barely touch type on the P1610. I question if I could touch type at all on the narrower Shift keyboard.

Go ahead, spoil my Shift fantasy. Next you’ll tell me Fake Steve Jobs is some Suit who works for Forbes…

Anton P. Nym

I wouldn’t have a problem if the alternative of a detachable keyboard was more common. That way everybody gets what they want; a slate for the lightest and slimmest possible device, and a keyboard worth typing on.

I touch-type and using a chicklet or thumb-board is, for me, as much slower than my normal typing speed as handwriting. I can definitely see James’ point that a bad keyboard is worse than none at all. (By adding weight and bulk and cost to a device that’s supposed to be light and mobile and affordable, without adding enough additional function to be worth the burden.) And I’ll throw in a grumble at the mainstream media types for their keyboard-kvetching while I’m at it.

Related to the point peejay brings up, I’m afraid that this move will make UMPCs uncompetitive with thin-and-light notebooks which cost less for the same horsepower and have fully-functional keyboards.

I like my Q1; I carry it with me pretty much everywhere, and it’s so useful under circumstances I’d never be able to use a laptop. If I need a keyboard I use an external one (I shelled out for a ThinkOutside model that fits in a shirt pocket, but any BT or USB model will do) that supports my touchtyping fully. If I don’t, or can’t (say, use while standing), the slate works fine for me.

I just hope that some day I’ll be able to find a successor to this, and that others can see how well this concept can work.

— Steve

peejay

I’d be very surprised if the entire UMPC market moved to have keyboards. I’m sure there’ll always be a choice.

Look at laptops and tablet PCs – you can buy either, can’t you? The fact that most people want a keyboard (a laptop) doesn’t stop the market also providing machines without for people that want them.

The irony is that I kept my Psion 5 for years because I was looking for a machine with a keyboard – but nothing existed. I didn’t have that choice! Things are improving now.

Steve Paine

Amtek T770 – A recent slate UMPCs. Kidc slate. Q1 and Q1U (10 different versions), R2H Pentium, There are choices.

Remember that slate stuff isn’t going to be as popular because of that ‘leap’ that Valto just mentioned but the choice seems to be there.

What we’re seeing is marketing going on here and I believe that the ratio of device with real keyboards, thumb keyboards and no keyboards represents pretty closely the split of user requirements across the market. Quality can always improve but I think its a good selection of devices right now.

Steve

Valto Loikkanen

It so funny to see this issue being so popular topic, that also makes it good to write about. My opinions are clear. All users need options to choose from, So it’s good that there are so many OEM’s involved trying to offer different kind of solutions for keyboard. Anyhow from sales point of view Keyboard is a must for getting new customers, maybe after they have bought their first unit and learned the benefits of touch screen etc. they may choose their second device to be without keyboard, but to take that leap of faith, is asking quite a lot from the average Joe…

Another thing that got me curious, was that how many of the average computer user actually touch-type? But rather Hunt-and-Peck? For them (like me) having keyboard being able to touch type makes no since at all, why would I need “big” keyboard if I don’t touch type – I bet there are more average computer users that Hunt-and-Peck than that touch types. I did go further to study this, since it was taking too much time, so I don’t have facts to support. But I did find this from Wiki about words per minute.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Words_per_minute

One thing is interesting, average typing speed is almost the same as handwriting speed…. So let the arguing continue ;)

I wonder, since I “hunt-and-peck” Can I type faster with smaller keyboard, since my fingers travel shorter distance ;)

HTC Shift is a KILLER device!

Aaron J. Walker

I’m happy there are choices as well but I follow James’ concern with them going all keyboard all the time.

The original point is lost. The Origami was supposed to be a slate style device which I am happy with in a small form factor. It was supposed to be used primarily for inking according to Microsoft’s specs. Now, I fear, OEM’s have gotten away from that and further confused the market.

I specifically wanted a smaller, lighter tablet that was cheaper than a convertible. I knew coming in there were options for keyboards if I wanted but the primary concern was smaller, lighter, cheaper. Not something currently possible if OEMs keep putting keyboards on a UMPC.

I’m using a Tabletkiosk v7110 with a Stowaway bluetooth keyboard. It’s there when I need it but when I don’t, I don’t have to be bothered. And I find for the usage scenarios of my UMPC, I only reach for it about 30% of the time because I am away from my desktop and need to get some lengthy writing done. Which is the point of not wanting an imbedded keyboard in the first place since I am only away from a desktop on rare occassions.

What made me fall in love with and save for my UMPC was the original Origami specs with the option of a keyboard like the original Q1. That was a great idea.

Now, like James said, we who liked the original Origami idea may soon not have that choice as more come with mandatory keyboards adding weight, bulk and price.

Steve Paine

OK James. So you point is that you want either a perfect thumb or perfect ‘real’ keyboard and you think that the U1010 keyboard would be too small.

Well there are certainly some crap keyboards around (Medion/Gigabyte, UX) thats for sure but dont forget design limitations.
Thumboard means 4″ screen (unless you use the T-swivel screen model) and full keyboard starts with 9″ devices. (Actually 10 – See Palm Foleo)
Do you think all 5-8″ devices shouldn’t have a keyboard? Or do you just think that the in-between keybaord designs are bad?

As for choice – things have never been so good. Thats what UMPCs are all about. We have 7″ devices with real keyboards now (nanobook, eeepc, kohjinsha, shift) and new sliders like the MIMD, U560 and shift (again.)

One of my fave designs is one with a removeable
keyboard (The Carrypad spec) but I’m very happy that there’s other choices out there.

Steve

Samir Shah

Sure, this will all change when Apple comes out with their own UMPC with, of course, an on screen touch keyboard. Will they? Won’t they?

chris

I have the same feeling as James. I myself using the U750P. Same reasons why I still can’t upgrade to a newer UMPC. MOst NEW UMPCs are running A1cc processor and my old U750P is on Pentium M (I dont know if you can call it an UPGRADE if I change my U750P to buy a A1xx UMPC device running 800MHz or 900MHz) and another option is the KEYBOARD, where new UMPCs are with little KEYBOARD that is very hard to INPUT/TYPE and using the ON-SCREEN keyboard is faster rather than using the built-in KB. My U750P comes with a very good folded-keyboard that seldom I use. I only use when typing longer documents in WORD or EXCELL. Which cannot be easily done on Built-in keyboards in new UMPC devices. Same with JK ” I just want to get my work done in a comfortable and efficient manner”.

– For my upgrade, I dont worry much on the keyboard, I can always use an external one but what really keeps me on-hold is the speed of the current UMPCS available in the market.. –

James Kendrick

My main point is all about choice, and we seem to be losing it. Some like little keyboards, some don’t find them very useful and that’s all good, it’s about choice. But if all UMPCs come with little keyboards then the choice is lost. I use thumb keyboards all the time on my phone and the Advantage, but I don’t want a bigger device with a sub-par keyboard. Sure I would use it occasionally but give me the choice.

MathProfJohnson

To clarify- I use my tablets and UMPCs to grade in slate mode all the time, it is when I am typing a lengthy e-mail that I do prefer the keyboard. I do value touchscreens, just want the keyboard if necessary which could easily be accomplished on ANY computer by attaching the keyboard I bought for my Samsung. Different strokes for different folks…

MathProfJohnson

I have to agree with James here. I did not own a Sony “u” series before my UX, but I can’t help thinking I would have preferred a “better” version of the u750 than the UX with the current keyboard. I find that keyboard utterly useless so I ink on that machine for any input when I am not at home with an external keyboard. On the other hand, I rarely use my p1610 in slate mode, perhaps because the keyboard is there and productive?

Back to the original argument if we look at the Sony U to UX which added the keyboard and the TC1100 with the 4200, TX1000 or 2710p ALL of these added a keyboard that could not be taken off. Let’s just all admit we miss the form factor of the TC1100 and want it back. In fact, if the HTC Shift had a detachable keyboard it would be the perfect “baby” followup to the TC1100 and I would be typing in my credit card number to order one as we speak. Now, I don’t know if my productivity would be reduced because of the 7″ keyboard, but I am sure it would be better than nothing and even BETTER if I could take it off and leave it at home when needed.

Thoughts?

Bruno

@ Steve: To your point about the Advantage’s keyboard – the keyboard does not add noticeable bulk or weight as it is extremely slim and light, and best of all detachable so you do not need to carry it if you do not wish to. It is an OPTION but one I am not forced to live with.

Bruno

I agree with Bob’s comment about detachable keyboards. I do not need a keyboard all the time, but when I need it, it needs to be good. I really wish UMPC makers took a lesson from HP and their TC1100 tablet PC (now sadly discontinued). The detachable keyboard was just perfect!

Bob Russell

I really have trouble being productive without a keyboard. I have a convertible and do like to use it in tablet mode, so it has a place, but it just wouldn’t be very useful to me if it didn’t also have the keyboard.

So for me, adding a keyboard adds weight and bulk and cost, but the value skyrockets, so it helps me justify the purchase.

In the future, I’m thinking that we will get the best of both worlds in more devices, with some sort of detachable keyboard, maybe even eventually sold as an optional accessory if enough people want a pure slate.

Steve Paine

Hi James.

I see your point. YOU want a full size keyboard BUT the point of keyboards is… (you asked “So what’s the point?”) that for most people, a keyboard is an advantage even if it has 50% typing speed. Its also an important marketing tool.

James, you’re pro input choice aren’t you? You’re even raving about an HTC avantage with a chicklet keyboard! Why the strange expectation that keyboards should be full-fat or not there at all?

Steve.

James Kendrick

peejay, that’s what I will do. What is bothering me is that I may not have that choice for long and that’s why I wrote this post. I don’t want to see us dropping the quest to get to that cool Haiku slate that started this party.

Rodfather

I agree with James.
The U1010 keyboard looks fairly useless to me. It looks like a touch keyboard, but it’s so small, I can’t imagine anyone doing serious touch typing with it.
The smallest devices with a keyboard I could *probably* use without getting frustrated are the Shift, Kohjinsha’s, P1610, Flybook.

peejay

So if you don’t want a keyboard, buy a machine without a keyboard. I do want a keyboard, so I’ll buy a machine with one!

I used a Psion 5 for 9 years and could get close to my full-size-keyboard typing speed on it. Any keyboard that size or bigger would be great by me.

James Kendrick

No rudeness taken. What issue have we pu to bed? I must have missed that debate. If you’re talking about the keyboard/ no keyboard issue then I am firmly in the keyboard camp. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, I do write for a living and I need my keyboard. But, and I like big buts, if it’s not a keyboard on which I can touchtype like a bat out of hell it doesn’t help me. If that’s the case then I’d rather have the device be lighter, thinner and overall more svelte than it is with a sub-par (too small) keyboard The P1610 keyboard is just on the cusp of being too small. If I am going to use a device that doesn’t have a full keyboard then I will use an external keyboard solution instead, as I am right now with the Advantage.

It doesn’t matter to me if keyboard X delivers 88% of the productivity of a “real” keyboard. I just want to get my work done in a comfortable and efficient manner. I need either a device that provides that or I will provide that myself with an external keyboard. That may not work for some, but it is essential to me to have a decent typing experience. My point with this post is that if an integrated keyboard can’t come close to providing the experience I need then I don’t want it on the device. Save me some cost and bulk instead.

That’s why I am dismayed to see that most UMPCs now are being developed with these sub-par keyboards..

Rodfather

I asked a similar question during one of your
‘questions from Twitter’ Mobile Tech Roundup segments.
I asked what you guys thought of the trend of UMPC’s including keyboards. Kevin misinterpreted my question and basically said he doesn’t need a keyboard because he’s an inker.
I’m glad I got an answer from you now.
I hope there will be at least some slates around. One of the only 2nd gen slate UMPC’s out there is the Amtek T770.
As for me, I want a keyboard now.. and not some half assed keyboard either. So I guess I’m going for a convertible next.

KillBill

I’ve had my OQO 02 since mid April, and find the thumb keyboard perfect for my use. I’m still trying to wean myself from typing to inking, but with no pen silo it is not always close by to use.

In the end, the input capability for my needs are met while I’m mobile or in coach potato mode. When I need to do some heads down PC stuff, then I’ll dock it to my sweet DVD-R docking station with a full size monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

I’m still having a hard time finding the right LCD monitor & BT keyboard for traveling. I’m leaning towards the Microsoft 8000 BT mouse because of all it’s presentation features but can’t find a nice compact BT keyboard that doesn’t feel like you have a wakeboard in your lap when kicking back, and I’m not too sure the folding ones are solid enough for that.

Anyway, forums seem to emphasize specific things like keyboards and touchscreens, to me it’s being able to do your business or pleasure without all the wires & other hardware most of the time. “Ultra Mobile PC”, the words themselves don’t say how it is done, it saying what can be done as in “ultra portable”, and some people are forgetting the PC part.

scoobie

IMO Tablets and the first gen UMPCs haven’t taken off due to keyboards. To make UMPC devices sell in reasonable numbers the consumer is asking for keyboards (along with battery life and a decent processor..). It wasn’t a secret vote, consumers voted with their wallet. In a survey Samsung did of its old Q1 owners they wanted a keyboard adding to the device.

Thats why pretty much all the 2nd generation machines now feature keyboards, and these are selling in higher numbers.

I reckon the third generation next year will also feature keyboards across the board and few if any UMPC slates.

We will probably see more devices that look like the Psion 5 Series / Fuji U1010 / HTC Shift, with varying sizes of keyboards and pocketability.

The Samsung Q1 thumbpad will be dropped I reckon as the quick fix it was to be replaced with a fuller keyboard on its third generation.

The Fuji keyboard is touch typeable for the smaller hands of Asia (I’ve seen it on video) or if you have bigger hands you’re meant to use 2 fingers.

You aren’t meant to be able to touch type full speed on these machines, but they do offer an effective compromise between size and functionality and portability.

Bottom line is if it sells, it will get made. The U1010 is selling like hot cakes in Asia reportadly, with big waiting lists, so the form factor has to be right.

Comments are closed.