Mobile technology – it’s everywhere! In the time it took you to read this sentence, a new generation of mobile devices and gadgets probably swept the planet, proliferating faster than the latest unfathomable social-networking fad. Mobility messaging surrounds us, seduces us, engulfs us. A sea of devices. An ocean of choices. Truly, we live in the Age of Mobility™.
And all this because humans are fundamentally mobile! Not only do we want to do what we want to do, we want to do this from anywhere! Have our cake. Eat it too. Thank goodness for wireless - if it didn’t already exist, someone would have had to invent it. (Oh wait...J).
When you think about it, embodied within every mobile-computing device is a Yin-Yang balance of two primal, opposing forces: Functionality and Portability. Ignoring the variable called ‘price’, every single mobile-computing choice involves a trade-off between functionality and portability; too much of one or the other, and the ‘mobile value’ quickly evaporates. For lack of a better imagination, I humbly J name this observation Vikram’s First Law of Mobility: Every useful mobile computing device shall demonstrate the right amount of functionality & portability, but no more. J
So who decides what the ‘right amount of functionality & portability’ is? The obvious answer is: you do. (Compromised-OS? Squint-inducing-screen-size? Repetitive-strain-injured-thumbs? Non-intuitive- interaction-models? Pay-through-your-nose-walled-gardens? Lack-of-compatible-apps? But highly portable? Step right up, folks, all yours for the taking…this offer won’t last! Or maybe it will! J)
Seriously speaking, actively or passively, you’re making that functionality-portability decision whether you realize it or not. In the past, if your functionality needs nudged you into the Microsoft ecosystem (very likely, given the overwhelming range of compatible hardware and software)(or perhaps because you’re the rare soul who just happens to love Microsoft technologies J), your mobile choice was to either adopt something Windows-based (large desktop-replacements, traditional (4+ lb) laptops, lighter ultra-portable notebooks... – all fully functional, but ‘relatively less’ portable) or something Windows-CE-based (very portable, but requiring compromises on apps and data-compatibility). Unlike T-Shirt sizes, the available Microsoft OS-based offerings did not form a smooth continuum from extra-large down to extra-small. Somewhere in the middle, down by the ~8” screen size, persisted a glaring gap. [Meaning if you wanted a full-fledged Windows PC that was smaller than ~8”, hey, happy dreaming... J]
But since nature abhors vacuums, and every healthy eco-system evolves life-forms to fill all available niches, it was only a matter of time before the technology and the desire aligned to fill-in those missing spots, sparking the creation of <ta-daa!> the UMPC</ta-daa!> category. J
The cynical reader may pause at this point to exclaim, “Oy! So it’s just a smaller PC. What’s the big deal?” Wait. Don’t leave yet! J Yes, the Ultra-Mobile PC is a smaller PC. But this is a big deal - at least from the perspective of a deal you did not have before. Consider:
· Functionality: The UMPC is a PC. It runs full Windows. Nothing less. All your existing Windows software works, all your existing Windows peripherals work, all your PC-based data remains compatible. You get to tap into the full value of the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. No compromises. (Ok, maybe a few, but that’s early-adopter pain…we’re working on itJ). Your data lives locally (you’re not at the mercy of web-service uptime or connectivity) and you have some pretty decent computing horsepower at your disposal (allowing you to have the twenty-first century user-experience that you so deserve and crave!)
· Portability: A laptop is still best used on a lap. (Try using one on-the go: e.g. walking from point A to point B). Slate tablets improve this somewhat, but at the 8-12” screen size you’re still going to experience some amount of inconvenience (Anyone been through Airport security lately? J). People carry their laptops on vacation, but not so much in their daily life. Whereas a reduction in size automatically extends the ability to carry a machine to more places and use it more easily in more situations, more spontaneously, adding an element of satisfaction to those otherwise-vacant slices of down-time that punctuate our lives. The less conspicuous, the less cumbersome the technology, the greater ones’ sense of comfort in carrying it around. (Plus, you get to look less-geeky (or more-cool, depending on your perspective). And, for the paranoia-inclined, a much les obvious prospective target for random acts of violence… J ).
· Usability: Try browsing the web on your phone. Or watching a movie on your mp3 player. Isn't that funJ? The 7" UMPC screen (sadly, my stubby fingers and failing eyesight force me to ignore anything smaller for now) absolutely shines when it comes to doing most common computing activities: browsing, music and video, onscreen reading & reviewing, reading/writing email, navigation apps, casual games, photo slideshows, doodling in meetings, surfing on company time, etc … Big enough to be usable with the interfaces you know and love (or hate!), and not-yet-small enough to make UI interaction an exercise in futility and frustration. (I suppose there's a reason DVD-players and in-car navigation systems standardized on 7" screens...) Plus the UMPC has the Baby-Boomer-approved™ ergonomic advantage of being easy to hold in one hand, while simulaneously allowing for comfortable adjustment of viewing angle and screen-eye distance. All the natural-interaction work done in Windows to date surfaces nicely here. Throw in an extended battery, combine it with Vista’s improved sleep-resume functionality, and you can get an awful lot of mileage from this baby. Add a few bluetooth peripherals for that wire-free pizazz. Use it at work. Use it at home. And everywhere else in between.
· Develop-ability: If you are familiar with Windows development, you know how to develop for UMPCs. There's a handful of guidelines to keep in mind, but that’s it. No new tools, no new languages, no need to rewrite apps. All those long nights spent learning Windows (or WPF) programming will still pay off. You get to focus your efforts on unleashing the potential of the new form-factor, not in relearning how to do "hello world" on wannabe platforms J.
· Affordability: Ok, I admit it - this ones a weak point. Relative to where we all want them to be, UMPCs probably feel a tad pricey right now. But there are economies of scale in motion even as we all sit around wasting our time reading and writing blogs.JThe price will come down. We live in hope J...
When you put all that together, what you're ending up with is a new class of pretty-darned-portable, versatile, and useful machines that can enrich many more aspects of your life (than even you suspected were enrich-able), while providing a highly-compatible and familiar experience, backed up by the most extensive technology ecosystem on the planet. So what’s not to like! J
We all have countless mobile-computing choices today. Should your interest in mobility intersect with the Windows world, you kinda owe it to yourself to take a look at the UMPC category, be it for your primary, secondary, tertiary, work, home, kid, companion, travel, or <something-we-never-thought-of> pc.
It’s a new category. It’s not perfect. But there's promise. And potential. Plus we hope to help it grow up and be all that it can be (or at the very least, 'realize it's true potential' J )…
Till next time. Enjoy.