In the past couple of years, I have been watching an area of Technology grow. It’s an area with a slogan: Jack of all trades, Master of none. I’m talking about those devices that are not subnotebook computers, nor smartphones or PDAs. These devices..ahem…’Bridge the Gap’ between smartphones and subnotebooks. These devices sometimes have keyboards too small to type on, but too big to thumbtype. They have relatively small high-res LCD displays, that try to show a standard desktop environment, again too small to be usable. They have relatively large-capacity batteries, yet fail to hold a charge more than a few hours. Some have phone functionality, but cannot be held to your ear (too big).
I’m talking about Ultra-Mobile-Personal-Computers, or UMPCs. Or, pretty soon they will all be shrunk a few more millimeters and called MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). The bastard offspring of an overbudgeted industrial design department. I have the feeling that this class of device has never been tested for real-world usability. After all, who’s idea was it to put WINDOWS VISTA on a 5″ screen at 1280*768 resolution? (Actually, just to be even more troll-like who’s idea was it that Vista was a good idea?). While there has always been interest in putting as much desktop-class power into as smaller footprint as possible, UMPCs/MIDs simply miss the point. You see, the moment a device becomes ‘handheld’, is the moment your hands are preoccupied holding the device. Which leaves your two thumbs possibly free to interact with the device (maybe the tip of your nose?). So having a normal keyboard slide out below the screen is an exercise in frustration. Smartphones work because the device is small enough for your thumbs to reach the center of the screen, thus covering the entire space if necessary. UMPCs or MIDs require that you hold the device with one hand, while pecking with the other at the screen. Or you can sit the device on the table, and pretend to type normally on a keyboard that is approx. 50% the size of a normal laptop keyboard. Just recently Willcom (A japanese company owned by Sharp) has released an MID that is running Vista Premium on a screen that is only marginally larger (5″) than the iPhone’s screen, but at a relatively high-resolution (1024*600). My question is:
What is the purpose of this device which is still too big to fit in your pants, still too underpowered to compete with any laptop, and still too big to use as a phone? Who thinks up these ideas? In a world where people even think that the Nokia E90 is way-too-big for a pocketable phone? Who are these gadgets aimed at?
Boys and their Toys. No serious smartphone user (male or female) would buy one of these things, nor would any must-be-productive businessman/road warrior. Yes, these gadgets are squarely aimed at buffoons with money, after all these things are not cheap (looking at around €700-upwards), there is NO carrier or any other subsidy to cushion the blow that you’re plonking down a whole wad of cash, for a device with no specific purpose, that does everything a ‘normal’ PC/Mac does..except…
I guess you could always tell people you ‘did it for the lulz’…
(UPDATE: By UMPC/MID I mean devices that are touchscreen based, with slide-out/side keyboards, not devices like the ASUS EEPC, or the new HP 2133 which in reality are just subnotebooks)