Ultra-Mobile Computing Predictions for 2010.

Posted on 11 December 2009, Last updated on 11 March 2010 by

For customers wanting full desktop PC capability in their hand, 2010 will be a frustrating year where you’ll see a lot of game-changing news, and very few products based on it.

On the positive side, Vista has been replaced by Windows 7, a much more efficient operating system that supports HD video decoding on the GMA500, native H.264 support, better tablet features and advanced networking. With fast SSD’s dropping in price we should see some exciting and capable devices based on this OS. On the negative side, Windows 7 is not as efficient as Windows XP and requires more memory, more processing and more storage at a time where platform performance will remain static. Intel’s Menlow, the only platform for advanced, long-battery-life UMPCs, will enter it’s third year of production but continue to be the only ultra mobile PC platform choice. Windows 7 will only be an option for high quality UMPCs and that could mean rising prices.

Moorestown, Intel’s next generation mobile computing platform is not expected to make an impact for UMPCs based on its unique position of (initially) being a Moblin-only platform. Moblin will develop of course and the release of version 2.1 for handhelds will be an interesting one that might reach across the Menlow platform. As Moblin for handhelds reaches launch, we will get a feel for it’s intended position in the market. We’re expecting a dynamic consumer focus rather than the productivity focus that UMPCs users want but this is a flexible OS and adding productivity components should be relatively easy, especially if the Intel application store takes off. A version of Moorestown that supports Windows will be announced in 2010 and it will allow UMPCs running desktop operating systems to shrink another 20% while gaining another 20% battery life but products using this may not appear in 2010. They could also be focused at the embedded market which puts a question-mark over price and small production runs for UMPCs.

Based on this awkward and risky matrix of old and new hardware and operating systems we expect the number of Windows-based UMPCs to drop and the advances in performance and battery life to be less dramatic compared to 2009. Expensive, highly targeted options will continue to appear (the newly announced Fujitsu UH900 is one example) and low-cost options will continue to find sales in Asia. We will see continued small-scale improvements with efficiency and better industrial design but we should not expect anything like the battery life advances we saw in 2009. Moblin-based UMPCs on the Menlow platform may appear which won’t offer any battery life savings but may allow manufacturers to offer low-end consumer-focused models in order to try and stimulate the market.

Screen technology (E.g. Pixel Qi) could make an impact and improve battery life (10-20% in normal use) but we only expect this to reach high-end UMPCs in 2010. We should also see the first capacitive touchscreens on Windows-based UMPCs in 2010. This will be driven by the multi-touch capabilities in Windows 7 and again, will only reach high-end UMPCs.

As Android stabilizes, matures, grows to support multiple screen sizes, starts to sell in significant numbers and attracts productivity-focused application developers, the operating system will become a valid productivity option. We see it scaling well to the 5-7″ screen and offering manufacturers a new choice for their productivity focused personal computers. The ‘power-gated’ platform (Intel terminology) that is already used by ARM-based platforms, is the only way forward for efficient, always-on’ handheld devices and until Moorestown is released, it gives the ARM-based designs a big advantage with battery life, active standby and weight. Maemo won’t be a serious contender in 2010 as it will focus on it’s development and transition towards Maemo 6. Look to 2011 for productivity-focused, large-format Maemo devices.

Unfortunately the platform that Maemo and Android runs on still needs to progress to the next generation before it can offer the processing power that can match X86-based UMPCs.  Multi-core Cortex-A9 based platforms are expected to reach production in 2010 but products won’t be in customers hands until 2011 meaning that in 2010, ARM-based devices will only be able to compete by offering longer battery life, lighter weight and active standby.

2010 will be the year that the Windows Desktop operating systems are shown to be limiting the progress of the UMPC. Sub-system power control is the only way forward if Intel want to compete with the ARM platforms and this is simply not compatible with Windows operating systems. The difference between battery life on Windows/Menlow and Moblin/Moorestown is going to be very significant and once OEMs see this, we’ll see a move away from Windows-based devices. At least for the pro-sumer ultra mobile PC market. Specialist business UMPCs running Windows 7 will remain.  2010 will be a year where a new generation of Linux-based ultra mobile PC products will be designed. Unfortunately, we may not see those until 2011.

2010 will see big turning points for hardware and software but most of these won’t reach consumers until 2011.

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