The first generation of ultramobile PCs have yet to hit the market, but some analysts are already calling them "tweeners" and projecting dismal sales without significant upgrades in the future.
New ultramobile PCs, or UMPCs for short, are being pitched by companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Samsung as portable PC companions that are more powerful than cell phones or PDAs—meaning they can play music, games and video as well as run corporate applications and download e-mail—but more portable than notebooks.
But, being neither a phone or PDA, nor a notebook is exactly the problem, Gartner analysts contend in a new report released on March 14. The first devices mix of prices and features are not convincing enough to inspire wide adoption among consumers and businesses. Thus, unless changes are made that allow the devices to offer more features for lower prices, UMPCs could be destined for lackluster sales, the analysts wrote.
"The concept has merit but is unlikely to succeed without key changes, including a lower price and longer battery life," they wrote in the report. "Today, we believe it isnt possible to produce compelling UMPC products—just proofs of concept. The low battery life, high price and non-Vista operating system will likely hurt the UMPCs market acceptance in this first go-round, and the negative backlash could damage its future chances."
The first UMPCs from companies such as Samsung and Founder are slate-style devices that will weigh about 2-pounds, offer 7-inch screens and are targeted to cost between about $600 and $1,000.
To be sure, executives at Intel and Microsoft said they didnt expect the UMPC to be an overnight success. Instead, they believe that UMPCs will take a place as PC companion devices over time.
Microsoft, for one, believes ultramobile PCs "will eventually become indispensable and ubiquitous as mobile phones are today," officials with the Redmond, Wash., software maker told eWEEK in a recent interview.
Despite their strong criticisms, the Gartner analysts appear to agree in principal, writing in the report that the UMPC concept has longer-term promise in the consumer and so-called prosumer market for carting photos, videos and music, as well as accessing e-mail clients, and for field sales or education.
But UMPCs wont find that success without significant advances, they wrote.
Necessities for success, some requiring technological advances, include eight-hour battery life and a better user interface that offers text-entry options beyond typing with ones thumbs. Those advanced must be coupled with lower prices, starting under $400, compelling content bundles—Intel has said America Online and Yahoo are already on board as content partners—in addition to simple file synchronization, which requires minimal user interaction, the analysts wrote.
"We question the timing of this launch: Why rush this to market before it is ready to succeed? Despite the promise of this device category, the UMPC as currently conceived will fail to achieve mainstream success—defined as unit sales in the millions rather than the thousands—by 2009," they wrote.
Microsoft and its partners are expecting the first generation of UMPCs to offer 2.5 hours of battery life; feature 30GB to 60GB hard drives; and be based on Intel Celeron M, Intel Pentium M or VIA Technologies C7-M processors. Prices will range from $599 to $999 per device, Microsoft officials have said.
UMPCs from Samsung and Founder are due to start shipping in April, Microsoft has said.
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