Ultramobiles Struggle for Respect

"The biggest problem with ultramobile devices is they need more bandwidth. When the user experience for mobile wireless is better, that's when you will see ultramobile devices really take off," Sezen said. "Right now you typically get 116K [bits per second] when you are mobile, which isn't a great user experience." A true ultramobile experience is the ability to pull out a mobile device and easily surf the Web. "Right now, you can't get that experience," Sezen said.

It will take a year or two for the mobile wireless experience to get better, Sezen said. "WiMax, and the opening up of Verizon's EV-DO network in the third quarter this year will help give a better experience for ultramobile users."

Intel has categorized UMPCs under the Mobile Internet Device (MID) nomenclature, and segments the devices further based on applications like entertainment, productivity and navigation, said Pankaj Kedia, director of the global ecosystem program for mobile Internet and UMPC platforms. The look and feel of devices, the marketing technique and what users want to buy is different, Kedia said.

Clarion's UMPC, for example, will be marketed as a next-generation navigation device, Kedia said. "It might have the capability of a PC under the hood, but from a user perspective it is a portable navigation mobile Internet device," Kedia said. UMPCs are more like MIDs aimed at productivity with PC capabilities inside.

When asked if a prototype UMPC that Qualcomm showed off at CES would replace cell phones, company chief technology officer Sanjay Jha thought for a second and then replied: "I don't know."

Different people might use them in different ways, Jha said. Also, how consumers use UMPCs might depend on how successful Bluetooth becomes, he said. Some consumers might be happy to use a UMPC instead of a cell phone if they can use a Bluetooth headset to make and receive voice calls, rather than holding the larger device up to their ears, he said.

Fujitsu's Paul Moore, senior director of mobile product marketing, also didn't have a definitive description of the ideal UMPC user. Someone who works on their feet a lot and is OK with typing with their thumbs might be an ideal user, he said. But he said the UMPC wouldn't necessarily replace a laptop.

Terminology doesn't matter though, HP's McKinney said. "Let a marketing person loose for 10 minutes and they'll come up with a category. You can say UMPC or MID, what the hell's the difference?"

(Nancy Gohring, Marc Ferranti, Dan Nystedt and Martyn Williams contributed to this report).

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