SAN FRANCISCO—Intel is unfolding its plan to help create a new class of small and inexpensive mobile computers it calls "ultramobile PCs."
The chip maker on March 7 said ultramobile PCs or UMPCs represent a category of computers, due this quarter, which will be handy for businesses whose workers shuffle packages or stock shelves. It is also made for young students or consumers who simply want to stay connected, view a movie or listen to music, but leave their laptops at home.
Thus, the ultramobile PC platform—an effort which Intel is working on in parallel with Microsoft—will serve as the hardware that underlies the new class of devices by granting a new hardware platform.
Microsoft, which has not announced its plans yet for the devices, but has teased interested parties with its so-called Origami project, is expected to provide the software interface for the new devices.
"The problem that the PC has had, even a notebook, is that its too large to carry with you" all the time, said Sean Maloney, general manager of Intels Mobility Group, in a keynote address at the companys spring Developer Forum, here, on March 7.
Indeed, "the opportunity is in the in-between," said Mooly Eden, general manager of Intels Mobility Group, in an IDF session. "In the in-between theres the opportunity for a new category that will not necessarily … replace the cellular phone or replace the notebook."
Therefore, the chip maker set out to create a platform which would allow smaller computers to still run full versions of operating systems such as Microsofts Windows XP.
The first such platform, set to be present in devices that come out this quarter, centers on a low-power Pentium M chip, which consumes about 5 watts of power.
But Intel has also been working with other hardware makers, such as companies who make GPS chips, to ensure that their products will work well with the platform, one Intel executive said.
The chip maker expects that the platform will assist in creating inexpensive, battery-powered UMPCs that allow users to connect to the Internet, check e-mail and even do things like make VOIP (voice-over-IP) phone calls, manage photos, listen to music and watch video.
UMPCs can be tailored to different markets, such as business workers, consumers and education, one area Intel said could benefit from an inexpensive, touch-screen-driven device.
Although Intel did not confirm it, the devices are targeted to sell for as little as $500 and to run for about eight hours on a single battery charge. The first UMPCs are expected to hit the market within weeks.
"Youre going to see a tremendous wave of experimentation in the next year and a half to two years" in UMPCs, Maloney said in his keynote.
To show how UMPCs might look, Intel revealed two concept devices at its IDF. One of the devices, described as a representation of the devices that will come out this quarter, features a 7-inch screen. It is about half-an-inch thick and weighs about two pounds. It has buttons on either side and appears to have a built-in GPS capability.
A second device, a hand-built prototype with a swing-out keyboard and a 5.5-inch screen, was constructed to show what UMPCs might look like in two to three years. It was roughly half the size of the first device.