The UPCs Swiss Army Knife Approach Doesnt Compute

A new class of portable computers tries to do it all, but doesn't do anything particularly well.

I see Robs fallen for the latest pretty girl to walk down the street.

In his column about the UPC, a new class of tiny yet powerful Windows-based portable computers, he waxes enthusiastic. According to Rob, these tiny and cramped devices are poised to steal market share, and ultimate market leadership, away from notebooks and PDAs.

I disagree. To start with, these UPCs are still halfway between usability and portability. Yes, they are small enough that you can carry them in a purse or briefcase more easily than todays wonderbrick notebooks from Dell and IBM. But they still dont deliver the ultimate of portability, where you stick it in your pocket and forget about it.

Rob thinks a high-resolution, 5-inch screen is good enough for reading long e-mails and documents. But on airplanes and trains, where many of these will be used, overhead lights and windows can turn a pretty screen into a faded dowager pretty quickly.

And Rob must have perfect vision, which is great for him. For the rest of us with glasses, contact lenses and astigmatisms, were looking for bigger, crisper screens, not smaller ones.

Rob also envisions a world where the UPC will replace both the handheld/PDA and the notebook. He points to stalled PDA sales as a reason why those devices are not living up to their promises.

But even if you adopt a UPC, you still arent getting rid of every other portable computing device. Look at that thing hanging out of your ear. Its connected to a computing device thats almost as powerful as a PDA, and is starting to replicate PDA-style organization functions. Its called a phone. And smart phones, or even the merely capable phones, are why PDA sales have stalled.

When it comes to unconscious portability, the phone wins out every time. My phone (much to my chagrin at times) is with me 100 percent of the time. The UPC is still too big to fit in my pocket, and still too expensive and fragile for me to tote around everywhere.

Next page: The whole concept is wrong.