Why Apple's 'new Newton' will rule

While cell phone, laptop and desktop PC markets are all well established, the world of mobile computers, the field for laptops that are bigger than cell phones but smaller than regular laptops is still wide open.

Nokia

The Federal Communications Commission recently approved a new minitablet, nonphone device from Nokia that supports Bluetooth, WLAN and GPS. The approval was branded as "confidential," so only the sketchiest of details are available on the product, which will almost certainly ship this year.

I'm not sure Nokia has the "right stuff" to compete in the nonphone market. For starters, the company has trouble focusing on individual products and tends to scatter its energy and resources across its massive line of devices. The future king of tiny mobile computers is going to need vision and focus.

Go ahead and take Nokia off the list of contenders.

The UMPCs

The ultramobile PC (or UMPC) platform, originally developed by Microsoft, Intel and Samsung, is designed for small, low-voltage computers with pen-based touch screens and, optionally, QWERTY keyboards. UMPCs can run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, Windows Vista Home Premium Edition or Linux.

Intel announced last week that it would slash the power on its UMPC chip sets in an upcoming chip set code-named Moorestown and add hot features like WiMax, 3G and others.

The Intel announcement is the best news to ever hit the UMPC space. The future of UMPCs has potential, but so far nobody in the space has achieved the right combination of price, performance and overall user experience. The manufacturers are trying, however, and just this month have announced wide-ranging updates.

  • Asus announced Thursday major updates to its R2E UMPC. The new version uses Intel's 800-MHz A110 processor instead of a Celeron, which should improve battery life. The device sports a few impressive specs, including 1GB of RAM, 802.11g wireless and integrated GPS and a webcam. The R2E, however, is simply too expensive to succeed at over US$1,500, and it doesn't have a keyboard.

  • Fujitsu recently announced its appealing LifeBook U1010 in Asia, which is sold as the U810 in the U.S. The device is for business professionals who also want to watch movies and play games. It even has a fingerprint scanner for security. Of all the UMPCs that are shipping, the Fujitsu has the most promise. It's both a tablet and a clamshell. It has a nice big keyboard. And it has a relatively low price: US$1,000. Unfortunately, the UMPC runs Windows Vista, and some users report serious performance issues. If Fujitsu could make the U810 a lot faster and a little cheaper (say, under $700), they'd have a category buster. But they can't, so they don't.

  • Sony recently updated the hardware on its VAIO UX-Series UMPC. The computer has a screen that slides up to uncover an unusable keyboard. The company will need to completely overhaul the design for better usability if it wants leadership in the coming minicomputer space. I would think Sony could do better than this.

  • OQO's recently updated 02 UMPC is optimized for media, and has a small, awkward keyboard. The device is both too small -- very close in size to a large smart phone -- and too expensive -- at US$1,300, it costs as much as a laptop.

  • HTC recently announced that it plans to jump on the Vista bandwagon with the company's Shift UMPC -- and also use Windows Mobile. The device uses Microsoft's cell phone operating system to collect e-mail while the computer is in sleep mode. The Shift has a nice, big keyboard and screen, but it's too expensive (US$1,500), suffers from poor battery life (three hours!) and is a little on the fat side.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld
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