Sony Bets Ultra-portables Will Go Places

With its new ultra-portable computer and all-in-one desktop, Sony is back with a vengeance, and just may help jump-start the ultra-portable market.

Disclaimer: Intel, Via, Transmeta, IBM and HP are all clients.

/zimages/5/77174.jpgWith its announcement of a "type U" computer in Japan, Sony is the second to market, after Antelope, with an ultra-portable computer. Using a Tablet-like design, this handheld computer— priced in Asia at under $1,900—is now the lowest-cost shipping UPC. If you live in the U.S., you can buy it from Dynamism, but youd have to really, really want to be the first on your block to have one, because theyre selling it for $2,799.

The product ships with 256MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive and a 1.2-pound carry weight, making it the lightest shipping Windows XP computer. It is also the first computer in this class that uses the Pentium M processor instead of one of the Transmeta processors.

While $1,900 for a handheld computer may seem like too much—and I have to admit, $2,799 seems very steep—Ive received a lot of mail from people who still use the clamshell Jornada Windows CE products that HP used to make. These folks really liked having a PC they could pocket, and the current crop of handhelds isnt meeting their needs. It was interesting to note that the vast majority are women, which suggests that the industry may not be adequately addressing the needs of this buyer, and this class of computer may be what they really want.

Ziff Davis Internet Editor in Chief Jim Louderback and I had a long discussion about this recently: He feels devices this small wont go anyplace, where Im convinced there is a huge potential market for PCs that you can easily carry.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read "Ultraportables: The Next Big Thing or a Flash in the Pan?"

/zimages/5/77182.jpgThis class, by the way, may even become more crowded shortly. At E3, the big U.S. gaming conference, Via showcased the Eva Mobile Gaming System, a handheld gaming platform running Windows XP that can be converted into a laptop by swapping out the gaming case and replacing it with mini laptop case. The final device will sell for under $800 and, while it wont be as powerful as the products from OQO, Vulcan, Antelope or Sony, it might be powerful enough for those just wanting a handheld computer that can run Windows XP for mail and light document creation. We will provide updates as this potential portable XBox to laptop story develops.

/zimages/5/77176.jpgSony actually took a shot at several companies during its announcement spree. The company introduced its new Sony Desktop V, a desktop computer that appears to update the award-winning (it is in the Smithsonian Institute as an example of design excellence) all-in-one X series desktop abandoned by IBM several years ago. This is an extremely sleek design using wireless accessories and a beautiful wide-aspect ratio screen. While it is targeted at the home market, and Japan only at this time, this design was actually very popular for customer-facing positions and in high-profile design-oriented firms. When the X series was provided by IBM, it often competed with the iMac for highly visible locations in trend-setting companies, and it still amazes me that IBM abandoned this product line given the visibility it had and how well it championed the IBM brand.

Sonys new desktop is arguably the best-looking all-in-one design on the market. And with its black color and sharp edges, it feels more business-oriented than the Sony W series that preceded it. I imagine it will find its way into a number of offices and homes as a result.

This system is clearly a wake-up call for Apple, which rejected the ultra-portable and hasnt updated its all-in-one line significantly in some time. Here at eWEEK, we continue to debate whether Apple should even be in the PC business, and these new PCs from mainstream PC vendors dont help my argument that they should.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead Rob Enderles column "Should Apple Get Out of the PC Business?"

This builds on my earlier column that Sony is clearly back and back with a vengeance as it showcases the continuing emergence of the new class of ultra-portable computers. We are entering a period where the PC vendors are getting increasingly creative, and that means more choices. And, I dont know about you, but I was getting tired of the boring designs from non-Apple vendors.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.