Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

2008: Is this the year of the UMPC?

Posted on: April 5, 2008

UMPC, the Ultra Mobile Personal Computer. The design initially came out of Microsoft roughly about an year or so ago, and there were quite a few skeptics who raced to make claims that this would die the same death that the tablet PC had. Though the Tablet PC is quite an interesting form factor, it hasnt taken mass adoption. The UMPC very much seems like its going to beat all the odds and catch up on that adoption curve.

I am usually blamed for not giving enough numbers, so let me start with statistics. The number of laptops that were sold last year saw a massive jump of 85.6% from the year before compared to what is happening with other forms of PCs. For example the PC saw a growth of close to 12-16%. With that backdrop, 85% is quite a significant jump and one that has never happened for a technology so late in the life cycle. So what does it all mean?

Its a given that desktops are gonna head out and more and more laptops are taking up their space. Considering that you can get a laptop for Rs. 30,000, almost at the same price at what a decent desktop costs, I am not surprised at the adoption rate jump. But there might be more to it.

Type UMPC in google image search and hit enter. I am currently getting close to 1.5 million images and all different variations of the same specification. It’s certainly quite interesting to see how many companies are betting behind the adoption of this device.

There are a couple of reasons why I think this would work. For one, the Sony Vaio (the Miniature version) has been providing one with a similar form factor and it is quite well received. It comes at a hefty price tag and there are a lot of up-and-coming executives who are willing to pay something a bit less to join that ivy league. Pride and desire is very well served.

The another might be the fact that the technology and software are quite timely in place. Low power consumption, touch-screen devices which dont cost as much to sign off your firstborn, handwriting recogition technologies which fair quite well, and flash-drive hard disks which bring down the power consumption and the weight of the laptop, all are adding to the glamour of the device in terms of usability and features.

Yet another reason I can think of is the fact that though people fantasized about having tabloid PCs, nobody had the use for one. With a device that can double as a mini-laptop and as a tabloid is quite appealing.

The last and final point would be the fact that for once all the markets are being targetted. Whenever there was a device launched, it would usually serve either the higher segments (Read Vaio) or the lower segments (Read OLPC). The market size in the higher segment is quite small and niche and you are essentially fighting with very well established brands, and if you try to sell something new to the under served markets, they dont want anything but what everyone else is using. In other words, nobody wants retarded or “special” meachines.

But for once, companies are launching products that cater to both the segments, and with equal platform and features specifications that people would be willing to trade options for price points and make their pick. The success of the ASUS EEE PC is a solid proof of that happening.

So is there an opportunity here? You have a touchscreen / tabloid PC, portable device which can connect over bluetooth, wifi and in some cases even over WiMAX, and you have quite a bit of processing power with some generous RAM capacity. The guys who were working on the Simputer should jump to tap into this market. This is the time for them to play their cards. There is definitely going to be a need of applications that can fuel this new platform, especially with the alternative interaction mechanisms it offers

I am soon going to pick up a UMPC – its all that I need for times when I head out to a barcamp or so. It might be an ASUS EEE, or something else. From whatever devices I have been trying out, I do have a feeling that soon enough I would get quite comfortable with it to use it for most of the time – checking mails, blogging, surfing the web etc. What then would I use a normal desktop / laptop for? This is probably a time just before laptops and mobile devices merge. If you look at what smart phones like Iphone do, and what devices like the UMPC do – given their form factor, I do have a feeling that we will be seeing them merge quite soon. I am also trying to decide on a new phone and was looking to get either a sidekick or a Sony Ericsson Xperia, and the more and more that I think about it, I cant stop seeing the similarities that devices like the Xperia and Nokia Tablet offer, compared to the UMPC.

There have been enough experimentations which happened and failed in the past, but this time, it might be for real.

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3 Responses to "2008: Is this the year of the UMPC?"

Do post me about when you zero in a UMPC. i am looking for one as well

Will do Ruchit.

UMPC’s as IDC state only sold 350K in all of 2007. They have great potential but thus far all have problems in two categories which prevent them from being popular.

Yes people want to have a full desktop OS computer small enough to carry everywhere. But that means small enough to fit in a jacket pocket so somthing about 7 to 7.4″ long by 3.5″ to 4″ wide and 1″ in height. If they are larger than a coat pocket then you need a manpurse to carry one. Mainstream will not do that so they would just rather buy a subnotebook or laptop.

The other flaw is that how does the world use full windows? they input with a touch type keyboard not with thumbs or a pen. UMPC’s need a touch type keyboard.

Can a UMPC combine both? Yes, just look at the old Psion 5mx or HP Jornada 720 they had nice form factors. That type of clamshell that would fit in a jacket pocket sold over 2.3 million per year! Now imagine what would happen if you made a modern version with full windows? That would sell.

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