In March of this year, Microsoft formally announced a new class of computing device, the Ultra Mobile Personal Computer (UMPC). The formal announcement followed weeks of intense buzz marketing using the product’s “secret” code name of Origami.
Partly due to the buzz; partly due to the players involved (Intel was also a major participant in the launch); partly due to the value attributed to mobility, this became a huge news story for a few weeks.
And then folks figured out that the UMPC wasn’t nearly as revolutionary as everyone had hoped.
In fact, early skepticism seemed to be quickly validated. Folks hoped for a price point near $500. The early products were around twice that. Folks hoped to quickly get their hands on the devices. Initial shipments were delayed by months and then had logistics and quality challenges. Folks expected reasonable battery life, but instead could only squeeze an hour or two of use out of them.
Bottom line, by late in the year, folks (even Intel) seemed to agree that the UMPC products originally introduced to the market weren’t quite up to what folks really wanted. In short, let’s just say that sales haven’t been nearly up to expectations.
So, the UMPC was a “big news” story for 2006 that ended up being a “no news” story for the year.
But, what will it take for the UMPC to become a big news story in 2007?
Well, if we think about it, the UMPC obviously falls between a laptop (or tablet) computer and a Windows Mobile device. For the UMPC to be a hit, it will need to combine the computing power of the laptop with the mobility power of the Pocket PC.
What does that look like?
A laptop (or tablet) has more computing power than a mobile device because:
- It runs “real” Windows and supports the seemingly infinite array of Windows-based apps.
- It is very usable, with reasonable input, meaningful screen real estate for output, and a big enough screen to comfortably read.
- Our price/performance expectations have been effectively managed by manufacturers.
A Windows Mobile device has more mobility power than a laptop because:
- It’s small enough to conveniently take with you everywhere (high availability).
- It’s likely that you’ll want to use it anywhere, anytime, so you DO take it with you. (Unlike, for example, your digital camera.)
- Mobile devices are always connected, so their value is multiplied by what’s available across the network.
- They are becoming increasingly aware of their context (location, proximity, presence, network strength, relevant data such as traffic and weather, etc.) enabling their value to increase exponentially as the context drives increased relevance to where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with, what situation I’m in, etc.
- Battery life lasts for hours of use and days of non-use standby.
- Pricing is generally less than $500, making a mobile device an affordable investment.
Will anyone be able to bring a UMPC product to market in the $500 range, with long battery life, the power of “real” Windows (XP or Vista), usability, portability, ubiquitous network connectivity, and contextual relevance?
I sure hope so!