UMPC – not Um… PC?

16Sep08

Mobile Computing: Ultra-Mobile Personal Computers

Two years ago, Microsoft made public the Ultra-Mobile Personal Computer (Ultra-Mobile PC or UMPC), which was marketed with the Origami Project code. The ultra-mobile personal computer was Microsoft’s attempt to create a product specification for a market that was still in its infancy. UMPCs target the mobile market, which is still, for the most part, dominated by small notebooks and Smartphones. Microsoft believed that Smartphones, even those running Windows Mobile, were not a substitute for notebook computers and that notebook computers were still too cumbersome to be truly mobile. What was needed was a lightweight device that was smaller than most notebooks, for easy portability, but with a display and surface area larger than a Smartphone, for ease of use.

Microsoft determined that the other important UMPC specification was the ability to run the current, full version of Windows: first Windows XP Tablet Edition and now Windows Vista. This would ensure that any software written to run under Windows XP or Vista would run on a UMPC, which is the capability that separates UMPCs from smartphones.

To qualify as a UMPC, a device must run, at a minimum, Windows XP Tablet Edition or Windows Vista Home Premium, which now includes tablet and touch screen functions. A touch-based interface is necessary for a tablet function, although most can also support a standard keyboard and touchpad or mouse. Hardware requirements include a 5- to 7-inch touch display with a minimum resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. The display size and resolution are most commonly used for mobile DVD players and the resolution is a good match for video playback. Other than the display, no specific physical size is required, enabling manufacturers to create UMPCs with form factors that fit their needs or production capabilities. Generally speaking, the goal is for a UMPC to be no larger than a paperback book and to weigh no more than 2 pounds.

Connectivity requirements typically include Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other broadband services, such as Evolution Data Optimized (EVDO) and 3G. Evolution-Data Optimized is a telecommunications standard for the wireless transmission of data through radio signals, typically for broadband Internet access. It uses multiplexing techniques including code division multiple access (CDMA) as well as time division multiple access (TDMA) to maximize both individual user’s throughput and the overall system throughput. It is has been adopted by many mobile phone service providers around the world, particularly those previously employing CDMA networks.

Storage requirements are flexible, but a UMPC must have a storage capacity of at least 30 Gigabytes. A UMPC must also have a minimum battery run time of 2.5 hours with additional hardware, such as GPS, a Web cam, a TV tuner, or a card reader.

Given such flexible specifications, manufacturers been able to produce multiple varieties of UMPCs. Some, such as the TabletKiosk eo UMPC v7110e and Asus R2H, are pure tablet-style UMPCs, with stylus and handwriting input as the main method of communicating with the device. Others, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook U810, HTC Shift, and OQO model 02, offer both touch-based input and a conventional, if somewhat small, standard keyboard. The Samsung Q1 series of UMPCs have a split keyboard in which half of the keys are on the left side of the display, and half of the keys are on the right. This may seem rather unusual, but the display measures a mere 7 inches diagonally, so the distance between the two halves of the keyboard is not extreme.

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