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.

These are just the UMPCs updated during September. There are more than a dozen other devices out there on the Origami platform. Every single UMPC device that has been shipped or announced suffers from lousy usability, high prices, poor performance, ill-conceived user interfaces, or any combination of the above. And far too many of these companies are jumping on the Vista bandwagon. If Vista can't deliver good performance on a brand-new desktop PC, how can it function well enough on a low-powered handheld device with a touch screen?

Can anyone create the right combination of usability, performance and price? Yes: Someone can.

Apple

Two things happened in the Applesphere in September that changed everything. First, of course, is that Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Sept. 5 the iPod Touch.

The second is that AppleInsider said this week that Apple is working on an updated Newton MessagePad -- basically a big iPod Touch with additional PDA functionality. The Mac OS X Leopard-based mobile minitablet PC will be 1.5 times the size of an iPhone, but with an approximate 720 by 480 high-resolution display. The site estimates that the new device will ship in the first half of 2008.

If true (and some believe it isn't), this rumor is very good news. If Apple ships an iPod Touch, but with good PIM (personal information manager) functionality, an optional wireless keyboard and good battery life for under US$1,000, they win.

But even if this particular rumor is false, I still believe Apple will dominate this category with another project. As I've said before in this space, Apple's iPhone user interface is a glimpse of the future, not only of future Apple mobile computers, but desktops and the future of all PCs as well. It's inevitable that Apple will ship a tablet Mac that works like the iPhone. And, just as in the iPod space, the company will likely round out the category with a "mini" version.

Of course, everything could change again in October. But right now, the only company with a prayer of succeeding in the small computer space is also the only company that hasn't even shown a prototype -- Apple.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld
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