Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Principal of niche notebook distributor Tegatech, Hugo Ortega, sees great opportunities in the UMPC space after a slow start. But he agreed the main market was in vertical sectors such as healthcare or mining. Tegatech's resellers are working with companies such as Rio Tinto, NAB, Macquarie Bank, and the NSW Fire Brigade.

The company stocks a range of UMPCs including Samsung, Tabletkiosk, HTC and OQO, which tend towards a 7-inch screen, Windows support and sub-kg weight. The latest models include HSDPA modules for fast connectivity anywhere you can use a mobile phone, with the added advantage of solid state drive (SSD) for faster boot-up times and improved durability. For the right purpose, Ortega argued, UMPCs are the perfect solution. He pointed out the smallest ones are almost the same size as PDAs.

Retail access was holding back the market, he claimed: "Big retail isn't on-board yet, and that's damaging it. So there aren't any in one place for consumers to walk in and play with."

That said, Tegatech's UMPC sales are multiplying monthly. "We've got resellers selling them in lots of 50 and lots of 10 are common now. We've resellers quoting on lots of 1000," Ortega said.

Conflict and compromise

HP was another vendor that had steered clear of UMPC but watched the market with interest, market development manager, Jerel Chong, said. He argued the 12.1-inch ultraportable form factor, represented by HP's 1.4kg 2510p, was as small as most consumers wanted to go.

"Everybody wants their laptop lighter, because of mobility," Chong said. "But everyone likes the big screen as well."

To sell up to ultraportables, resellers needed to teach users that smaller didn't mean cheaper as well as stock and market all the accessories - everything from batteries to mounts to extra RAM and satchels, Chong said.

Right now, it seems the Holy Grail of mobile technology is a way off. Although we're seeing laptops that are smaller, faster and lighter than ever before, a degree of compromise in features and functionality means users are inclined to trade weight off against other factors, including price. When Intel refreshes its Centrino mobility bundle mid-2008 with the Montevina launch, the goal posts will move yet again.

The closest thing to mobile computing perfection right now is possibly the Itronix GoBook MR-1, made by UK-based military technology specialist, General Dynamics.

Mobility solutions distributor, Avantec, launches the MR-1 locally in December.

General manager, Dave Cawsey, said the MR-1 incorporated Bluetooth, WLAN, 3G, GPS, 30GB SSD, touchscreen, full keyboard, touchpad, joystick and thumbwheel, 1.2GHz of Intel U1400-powered grunt and 512MB-1GB of RAM in a 910g XP or Vista clamshell. It has a 5.4-inch screen and is certified under the MIL-STD 810G, MIL-HDBK 87213 and IP54 ruggedised specifications.

"It's military technology, so it works," Cawsey said. "We're seeing high interest in local councils, asset management data collection, defence, police, emergency services and so on."

Battery life is 3-6 hours. Optional DynaVue screen technology comes straight from LearJet instrument panels, giving 360 degrees of visibility and doublecontrast ratio, according to Cawsey. It's an ultraportable, but not as we know it. The price? A cool $6000.

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