UMPC too soon for the masses

The first generation of Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC) recently debuted at the CeBIT show in Germany to mixed reviews.

After Bill Gates described his vision of a fully functional mobile PC with all-day battery life priced around US$500 at last year’s WinHEC conference, many were surprised to see Microsoft come to market with a device that’s not only bigger but more expensive and power-hungry than the software maker had hoped.

Stephen Baker, an NPD Group analyst, doesn’t see the devices having much mass appeal. “Prices are too high for the mass market, battery life isn’t sufficient and product definition is not sufficient,” he said.

“It’s a product in search of a solution. The hardware and software manufacturers have an idea, they have a form factor and components but they’re not really sure what they should do with this other than it’s ultra mobile.”

Microsoft recognizes that the initial target audience for the UMPC will be tech-enthused gadget fans, said Elliot Katz, senior product manager for Windows clients at Microsoft Canada.

“This is version one. There are two main areas where we are going to see improvements: in battery life and weight,” said Katz. “Those are key focus areas that we’re working on with our OEMs.”

Currently the battery on UMPC devices ranges from two to three and a half hours.

Samsung is one of the hardware manufacturers partnering with Microsoft in this market. The company is scheduled to be the first out the door in the U.S. with an ultra mobile device called Q1, due out in May. Although official pricing has not been released, some reports indicate the Q1 will be in the US$1,200 vicinity.

Intel Canada country manager Doug Cooper said wireless connectivity is a big area of focus. “We’re aiming to improve wireless connectivity so it does become a connect anywhere anytime type of device,” he said. “Another target is to improve the amount of power consumption by a factor of 10 over the next two years.”

According to Baker, the products are being released prematurely. “This is very bad marketing from Intel and Microsoft to push something that isn’t really ready yet because it does leave open the possibility that bad reception is going to kill it, and it’s probably not worthy of being killed,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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