Blog Post

Shh… Don’t tell anyone the iPhone is actually a UMPC

iPhone and UMPC Microsoft had their chance at defining a market. They pushed for the creation of the Ultramobile PCs (“UMPCs”). The Windows-based mini-tablets have not found their market. However, the Apple iPhone (and now the iPod touch) is actually the UMPC done right.

The Windows-based UMPCs tried to create a market. The first-generation UMPC devices were large and bulky. The UMPC is still not quite small enough to replace a PDA or smart phone; nor is it large enough to be a laptop computer. The device is a strange in-between device. Apple snuck a portable computer into a cell phone form factor. The iPhone is not really a phone in the traditional sense. It is a computer running OS X that can run many applications (although Apple has locked many applications out for now) with a cell phone application tacked on.

The iPhone interface is the right interface for a portable computer device. Shrinking a desktop experience onto a mobile screen is incredibly difficult. The UMPC essentially tried to replicate the desktop experience on a device smaller than a laptop. Several UMPCs did away with a physical keyboard. Others tried smaller, thumb-based keyboards. Traditional computers need keyboards in order to input data.

Apple did not try to replicate full-blown desktop experience. They adapted their applications to run optimally on a portable device. The mobile Safari application makes other mobile web experiences seem lacking. The touchscreen keyboard still needs work, but functions in a pinch. Since Apple puts such an emphasis on “lifestyle” computing instead of productivity, the lack of a great keyboard is something many overlook. The iPhone disguised itself using its personal media player capabilities.

Tying the iPhone with a cellular phone network is also what makes the product a success. Omnipresent internet access is incredibly helpful in creating a real mobile computer. People expect internet access on computers these days, and the iPhone bundles internet access on a portable computer. Yes, there have been other solutions to put wireless internet access onto portable computers, but none have been as elegant as Apple’s solution.

Why do the Apple products succeed where the competitors fail? The Apple products are incredibly easy to use. If you’ve seen the commercials for the iPhone, you already know how to use the product. The iPod touch is needlessly feature-light compared to the iPhone, but works in pretty much the same manner. It is really the Apple Tablet UMPC. Could you imagine seeing a UMPC ad showing the use of Internet Explorer?

17 Responses to “Shh… Don’t tell anyone the iPhone is actually a UMPC”

  1. @Matt Sharpe

    “any sense you were making was lost right there.”

    It’s obvious what was meant by my statement, but just for a Thurrot fanboy – I was pointing at industry standards that curb innovation.

  2. That’d be like saying my HTC Wizard is a UMPC and my HTC has more applications and more functionality then iPhone with probably some exceptions that I can’t remember atm. I have windows in my HTC, and it’s a phone so it’s called a pocket pc, so iphone should just be called pocket pc (as in personal computer and not related to an intel PC) or just pocket mac. But it’s not a UMPC. HTC Advantage X7501 is more of a UMPC then iPhone is at the moment.

  3. I agree with nfoo. Too many designers focus on trying make a device that’s unlimited in every way, too many features, not many (any) of them done well. Apple don’t do this, they at least try to give you what you need, keep it simple, and make it the best at what it’s supposed to do, without bells and whistles that you never need. And who cares about industry standards, and industry ‘definition’. Phooey! Rules (definitions) are made to be broken.

  4. @D. Clark

    No, you are off your rocker. Paul is using the industry’s definition of UMPC. This blog is using a definition of UMPC that they just made up. Paul’s argument is sound because it relies on the generally accepted industry definition. The iphone is pretty sweet, but UMPC it definitely is not.

    This blog’s article is like me saying that an apple is actually a banana because my definition supports my argument.

  5. Well … I don’t really know that Thurrott guy … but I think he is too narrow minded.

    The UMPCs are a joke. And that’s partly because of narrow mindedness like this. USB ports to attach a mouse?

    The iPhone needs no mouse. An ultra mobile device needs no mouse.(And I wonder what Apple does with those rumored new MacBook.)
    As all these old fashioned input devices, and yes, I mean hard keyboards, too, were never meant for such a form factor and shouldn’t have been put in there in the first place … and where put in there because of narrow mindedness and lack of ability to innovate. Lack of creativity.

    And that’s the reason why Windows Mobile and Symbian devices always suck, too: they try to turn those small devices into PCs that can do everything.

    This makes no sense in the first place and never got anyone anywhere.

    Apple is doing the right thing and really shows how super mobile mini computers should be:
    -Internet communications device, that has the phone features you heed to have left when you have internet everywhere and all the time – that means a reduced phone is enough.
    That means a real browser with a new ui that makes sense on a smaller screen: multitouch, zoom.
    -A suite of smart applications that make sense on such a form factor.
    -Media Player

    The biggest mistake all techies always do is the: put more, more into it. Just so that you can spend your time by playing with your device. The device becomes the content.

    I’m glad Apple stops this non sense and started this big experiment. And it turns out to be right. Now they will figure out if they will open it to 3rd party software … and I’m still not 100% convinced that we need this. They should just add some more functions by themselfes … PDF reading … maybe Office file viewer …

    An ultra mobile device should never be set to replace a notebook computer. That’s the big mistake.
    And that’s why the iPhone is the beginning of the new ultra mobile computers.

  6. Bie Kipper

    Shh… Don’t tell anyone the iPhone is actually a UMPC

    Don’t worry, we won’t, because this version of the iPhone isn’t an UMPC especially with how Apple persists in locking out and locking down its functionality.

  7. Paul Thurrot is off his rocker. Who says you *need* the total desktop interface to be a portable pc – you don’t. Why do we need cut and paste – we don’t. Why do we need a mouse – we don’t – we have our fingers. It does not surprise me that many people don’t get that. The iPhone can be a UMPC given proper app support. Is it a shrunken Mac with a mac os x dock, cut/paste etc… – no and that is what will make all the difference. Apple has a adapted the ui and its apps for the purpose – instead of the m$ way of trying to wedge a UI built for a 21″+ screen onto a 3″ screen.

  8. The debate is over matter of degrees. It’s also a matter of authoritatively defining what a UMPC is.

    The iPhone is no less a UMPC than the rest, since there is no sustained history in the society with the form factor yet.

    Maybe a better description for the iPhone is to call it Apple’s proto-UMPC. I have no doubt that this stealthy device is Apple’s intended public introduction to its UMPC. Once the confidence with the consumer is established, you can expect this device will evolve into Apple’s definition of a UMPC–a device that’s always connected, associates disperate bits of information, and unlike the competion’s devices, does it easily and joyfully.

  9. John McDaniel

    Jaun Cuclillas states “to say that the iPhone is like a cash register is the ultimate proof that someone doesn’t understand….apple.” This statement is the ultimate proof that Mr. Cuclillas doesn’t understand English. No one said the iPhone is like a cash register. The point was made that comparing an iPhone to a UMPC is like comparing a Windows PC to a Windows based cash register. They are simply not the same. The iPhone is, however, a remarkable and awesome product, like most products that Apple offers.

    It should be noted that I have enjoyed voice command, wireless peripherals and a plethora of new software for several years now on my WM device(s).

  10. Juan D. Cuclillas

    Paul Thurrot doesn’t understand consumers;

    To say that the iPhone is like a cash register is the
    ultimate proof that someone doesn’t understand
    the digital lifestyle that Apple is creating for next
    generation consumers in the twenty first century.

    All this pontification from last century tech pundits
    that believe a Windows desktop is the definition of
    what a computer is will be seen in a few years for
    the stone age mumblings they really are.

    Voice commands, wireless peripherals, and a whole
    new generation of applications por Apple’s hand
    held computers will leave these traditional and
    biased views of computing in the trash where they

  11. I agree with Paul Thurrott 100% on this one. Calling the iPhone a UMPC is nonsense. You could say the same about any Windows Mobile device, and you would still clearly be wrong, even though WM devices are arguably more like PCs than the iPhone.

  12. It’s not often that I agree with Paul Thurrot, but I think you jumped the gun.
    The iPhone is a UMPC in the same way that a cash register running Windows is a “Windows Computer.” Mac users for years have been saying that these specialized devices that happen to run Windows shouldn’t be counted as “Windows Computers” because it’s not like they can be used for anything other than a cash register.
    By the same token, just because the iPhone runs a variant of OS X does not make it a personal computer.

  13. In fairness, the iPhone is not a full-functioned computer (one could argue, neither is any Windows computer full-functioned, but that would be smarmy). But maybe full-functioned isn’t what we REALLY WANT in an ultra-mobile device. Or maybe iPhone 2.0 will have a lot of added capabilities (and 3rd party apps?). It should be an interesting could of years. It is with no small amusement that I watch the hammer coming down on TWO adiitional product lines (phones and UMPC’s) that MSFT spent YEARS and billions developing! Also, don’t forget that the iTunes Store more-or-less obsolesced any notion MSFT might have had that their Windows-only DRM system was ever going to gain traction.