Michael Mace wrote a fantastic article about the mobile computing market. If you haven’t read it, you really need to read the entire article. I think he is on the money with his analysis and I quite literally could not have said it better.
The one thing he said that I disagree with is:
“Information manager [device] innovation has basically ground to a halt, and the users in this space are very frustrated.”
I agree that the users are frustrated. I don’t agree that innovation has ground to a halt. In fact, the information manager’s dream device is already out there.
To prove my point I first need to contradict some of the things Microsoft has said. Mainly, they’ve insisted that the UMPC is not replacing laptops or PDAs, that it’s for a mysterious ‘new market.’ This was a really unfortunate statement because it sent all the reviewers on a bigfoot hunt for this previously undiscovered market. When they couldn’t find this magic market they responded negatively!
The fact of the matter is that the UMPC WILL replace laptops for some users and the UMPC WILL replace PDAs for others. In some cases it might replace both the user’s laptop AND PDA. The reason is simple. There are some things that laptops and PDAs are just not very good at.
PDAs Aren’t PCs
I LOVE PDAs (and by “PDA” I mean true PDAs and also devices like the Windows Mobile Smartphones.) These are fantastic devices. The one thing I see all the time though are people trying to get their PDA to work like a PC. I’m guessing that these people are the “Information Managers” Michael Mace mentions in his article.
These people really really REALLY want to have their PC with them all the time. They spend countless hours synching data, they buy complex and memory intensive programs to emulate database software, they purchase piles of memory cards to get more memory to hold their data!
How do I know? Well first off, as the guy who spent years answering the phones for a company (Ilium Software) that sells information management software for PDAs, I talked to these people time and time again. Second, I’M one of those people! My dream was my PC in my pocket ALL the time. For years my Pocket PC was the closest I could come. So, like all the other Information Managers, I made do.
Laptops Aren’t Really Portable
“Get a laptop,” people would tell me. I’ve got a laptop. A really nice one in fact. BUT, and I know some people will say I’m nuts, laptops aren’t really portable. They aren’t. Yes you can move them around and yes they are more portable than a desktop, but I’ll bet that almost anyone who has ever…
* Tried to get out and use a laptop in a coach seat on an airplane…
* Balanced a laptop on their lap while trying to drink coffee with a free hand…
* Tried to use a laptop while in the driver’s seat of a (PARKED) car…
* Tried to use a laptop while reclining on the sofa…
* Tried to use their laptop while standing around waiting for a bus…
…will admit that a laptop, even a small one, is just not that portable. It’s great when you need to move to a static location, setup at a table, and work for a couple hours. It’s excellent if you have a whole lot of typing to do, but when it comes to true portability the laptop doesn’t cut it. For one thing, the clamshell design makes it kind of clumsy. Plus, these days the demand for wide screen is making laptops bigger, not smaller!
So yes, a laptop gives me the POWER I (and other Information Managers) am looking for, but not the portability.
UMPCs to the Rescue!
So where do I get PC power with PDA portability? It seems obvious to me…the UMPC.
What it does better than my PDA:
*I don’t need special versions of software to use my data.
*I don’t need memory cards to get enough memory.
*The screen is big enough to see and manipulate the data I store on it!
*I have full access to all the software titles I use on my PC, never saying “I wish they’d make a PDA version!”
*I can read ebooks on it without squinting or zooming constantly!
What it does better than my laptop:
*I can hold it with one hand and use it while sitting, standing, laying down, or even walking.
*I can carry it in just about any bag (although typically I just carry it around like a book). No more special computer bag draped around my neck.
*I can use it in confined spaces easily (cars, airplanes, etc.)
The moral of the story is that the UMPC is the Information Manager innovation that Michael Mace is looking for. It is also a device that WILL draw off both PDA and laptop users. Personally, I no longer use my laptop. For those occasions where I need the “laptop experience” I just plug in a mouse and a portable keyboard and I’m good to go. Even if I carried these all the time (which I don’t) they would still take less space than my laptop does.
As for a PDA, I have a Windows Mobile Smartphone, but the poor little thing no longer needs to live up to my overblown expectations of it’s capabilities. I keep a limited set of information on it for those occasions when I can’t bring my UMPC.
And finally, I KNOW the UMPC needs to improve. Battery life in particular stinks. Then again my first iPAQ only had a 45 minute battery life so I firmly believe that this is a temporary problem.
UMPCs are the new PDA. If anything, it’s smartphones that are the “new market.” UMPCs are just giving us the portable computing experience that PDAs always failed to deliver.