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Will 2007 Be The Year of the Ultra Mobile PC?

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The year 2006 brought the computer world a new form factor, this was the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC).

The idea behind this venture backed by Microsoft was to create a computing experience that anyone could carry around with them and access at any time. Weighing in at just around 2 lbs. and with a seven inch screen it was going to make life a bit more portable.

The idea is simple, create a hardware device that can run a regular install of Windows XP Tablet PC edition, and market it to the masses. The Ultra Mobile PC tries to hit that target.

Initially there were a couple drawbacks to the devices:

Low Battery Life – When the UMPC was first launched there were some complaints by the early adopters. Most notably was the amount of time available on the battery during a charge. The Q1 ran for close to three hours, and another offering by TabletKiosk; the UMPC named eo, had some problems with the device that would quickly drain the battery. Fortunately, both companies have addressed these issues by providing longer life batteries that provide around 5 hours or more on a charge. By using power management techniques within Windows XP you can probably get a day’s use from the device without having to run for the outlet. With new technologies on the horizon like flash based memory and better power conservation on the CPUs, we should see battery life to continue to lengthen in 2007.

High Cost – Cost of the UMPC was pretty high at the initial launch, many models were released with a retail price of around $1,200 or more. Some models range higher depending on the features of the device. 2007 should bring lower prices as memory costs continue to dip as well as efficiencies in manufacturing costs. Once costs come down the market should see a heavy turn in purchasing of the UMPC, for example; online retailer woot.com recently posted the Samsung Q1 at a price of $750 twice within the same month, on both of these sales the Q1 was quickly purchased and they sold out in very little time. This low price provided by woot.com clearly demonstrates that the UMPC still needs to come down to meet its price point, at that time the UMPC should see a major boost in sales by consumers.

Confusion in the Marketplace – After the UMPC was launched there was confusion over what the device actually was. Was it a Tablet PC, or was it a laptop? Many of the initial reviews were poor due to issues like the device lacking a keyboard or DVD drive. For most of the early adopters who purchased the device however, they really didn’t see a problem with these issues. The UMPC is meant to be a mobile device, something carried in a backpack or cargo pocket, not something to do heavy computing in a work environment. Even so, Samsung responded by including a USB keyboard into the package with every purchase.

Several manufacturers provide versions of the UMPC. Most notably is the Samsung Q1 which had a better marketing strategy than other competitors in the segment in 2006. Samsung worked with partners like Best Buy as well as using their PR and communications departments to bring the Q1 into the consumers mind.

Another boost for marketing and building awareness of the UMPC was the support Microsoft placed behind it. Microsoft opened up an online community (http://www.origamiproject.com) to foster and support the growth of the early adopters as well as build a support resource for owners of the UMPC.

Where do we see the UMPC going for 2007. We can only expect it to gain in popularity as a platform. Microsoft employee and member of the UMPC team Dustin Hubbard recently posted on the OrigamiProject.com community site that:

“But alas, all will be explained on January 8th. All I can say is to expect an all new experience. It’s the best product work my team has ever done!”

Which is the date of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. 2007 should bring new features as well as improvements over the existing models as far as battery life and cost. We’re looking forward to the future of the UMPC and what 2007 brings.

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Patrick Santry of Santry Technology Solutions, and owner of the popular gadget site: RedmondGadgets.com has kept an eye on the technologies coming out of Redmond for the past 12 years. Patrick is a frequent presenter and author on Microsoft technologies.

Will 2007 Be The Year of the Ultra Mobile PC?
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