I tweeted this earlier today: “If companies want to differentiate in the tablet space, the should try smaller devices with keyboards. Slider, clamshell at 5-7″ My follow-up tweets to queries highlighted that the time and ingredients are right now. A new attempt at the ultra-mobile PC shouldn’t be far away. The UMPC of 2006-2008 failed, yes, but not because of the wrong concept. Portable, desktop-style capabilities with flexible connectivity options, a slant towards social, always on and the best web experience possible is something a lot of people still want to see but at that time, the processing platforms and the software just weren’t suited to the idea. It only really came together when Android and IOS moved up into the area to bring the battery life, features, speed and, importantly, the desirability – a ‘complete product’ shall we say. These ultra mobile devices are currently successful in the tablet form but that doesn’t mean that its the tablet form making them successful.
Over 50 tablets were available for viewing at Computex this year (you can find most of them on the Computex product pages) and they all looked much the same. While the OS and software can be a differentiator, what about devices are sitting on a shelf in a shop? Physical differentiation is required. Being able to see a keyboard (and think about productivity) is something that netbooks used to their advantage and the slider form factor was undeniably popular during the UMPC years; The HTC Shift being the prime example.
Only a few minutes after sending the tweet though, I stumbled across this. They aren’t new devices so don’t get too excited. These are the sort of clay, plastic and computer based mock-ups you should expect to see in any large ODMs lab but they show a desire that couldn’t be realised 3 years ago.
They could be realised now though and with Windows 8 on the horizon, could offer every flexibility that the UMPC offered too. And there’s another thing – the economics of mobile devices have changed. The numbers are much bigger now and not only is there a proven market for a third mobile screen, there’s a need to differentiate. While tablet designs are easy, cheap and low-risk, there’s a new opportunity coming up and designers will be thinking about those designs today.
I wouldn’t put any money on the next-generation of Ultra Mobile PCs being called UMPCs at all but who cares! As long as we get what we want, we’re happy right?