I had to laugh when I saw Gizmodo (followed by Engadget) finally realize something we’ve known since 2006 and the name "Origami": the naming of portable device categories is way out of hand. I pretty much let the topic go over the weekend, but then Sal, one of the great writers behind Geek.com, shot me note that he put his thoughts on the topic out there. Hopping over to Sal’s personal blog, I saw that he did a solid job at breaking down the categories.
Let me now backtrack just a second to this past Friday where I worked in a Starbucks for a few hours (blogging, not making coffee). As I always do when on the run, I had my Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium with me. No less than four people stopped and asked me what it was. My stock and technically accurate answer was "it’s called an ultra-mobile personal computer". Wouldn’t you know that all four people responded with the same comment of "oh… but is it a notebook?"
The fact is that to most consumers there are two types of computers: desktops and laptops. For sake of argument, I’ll switch notebook for laptop here; most would agree that they mean the same thing to most people. So aside from differences in architecture, what’s the biggest differentiator between desktops and notebooks? Portability. See, a device is either portable or it’s not. Yes, a desktop is portable in the truest sense, meaning you can break it down, move it and set it up somewhere else, but you can’t easily use it while being mobile, right?
Assuming that I’m mostly correct with the last statement, a notebook is therefore usable while mobile and a desktop is not. So what’s the purpose of putting the word "ultra-" in front of mobile? I suppose it’s to tout the "easier to carry" and "can be used in smaller workspaces" features that a smaller device can bring over a larger (but still portable) one. But really, when you think about it: isn’t that just a marketing term? Put another way: can a woman be ultra-pregnant? No… she’s either having a baby or she’s not. So, "ultra-" anything doesn’t mean all that much to me… unless you’re saying I’m ultra-talented, ultra-good looking, or something else positive with the word "ultra-" in front of it. No… I didn’t think you were.
And there’s the older and more acceptable term of "sub-notebook". I look at the Asus Eee PCs, the HP Mini-Note, and others when I hear this term. But as Sal astutely mentioned, he’d consider the 7-inch Eee PC to be in this genre, but what about the 8.9- or 10-inch? I can live with "sub-notebook", but again, I think most consumers would look twice when you said "sub-notebook". I keep it simple when folks as about my Eee; I just tell them it’s a small notebook computer. "Sub-" could mean less functions, less quality, less reliability, or as Warner jokingly mentions: underwater abilities.
Let’s look at this from the other side of the coin. Recently, we gave away a HP Pavilion HDX notebook computer. The screen is over 20-inches and the device weighs around 15 pounds. It’s heavy, but it’s portable, right? Did we call it a "portly notebook" or a "hefty notebook"? Nope, it’s a notebook. A darn big one, but nobody saw fit to create a new class name for it, did they?
In the end, I’m happy with as few categories as possible as they’re the least confusing. And if you doubt that just look at the auto industry and their definitions by car size: are there enough choices for you? I like desktop and I like notebook. I can live with "sub-notebook", but "ultra-mobile" has long lost it’s luster for me. And don’t get me started on MID, or Mobile Internet Device. Technically, every phone with a browser that can access the web is a MID in my book. Or is that sub-book? Oy!