Ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) are being tipped as the next big thing to hit the PC market, but several industry pundits remain unconvinced these small form factor devices can win widespread market adoption.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this month, a host of tier-ones, including Lenovo and Toshiba, launched new UMPCs, also referred to as mobile Internet devices, based around Intel's Menlow processor. Asus is also claiming its 7-inch UMPC, the Eee PC, is experiencing strong sales via the retail channel. Last week, the Taiwanese vendor appointed eight new retailers, including Harvey Norman, Betta Electrical, JB Hi-Fi and Officeworks, to carry the product alongside Myer locally.
Intel's Classmate PC with 7-inch LCD screen is also being offered to general consumers and corporates in India for the first time.
But while there's plenty of hype, user take-up of UMPCs has been slow. IDC PC analyst, Liam Gunson, said there was still a lot of scepticism about the form factor. "Features that need to be addressed before these take off include battery life and wireless networking infrastructure," he said. "We're not including devices like the Eee PC in the notebook market as they're not fully fledged PCs - we see this more as a new segment in the marketplace."
UMPC take-up had also historically been hindered by higher price tags, Gunson said. But although Asus' sub-$500 machine crossed the price barrier, he argued Australian users were still slow to embrace "anywhere" computing.
Those buying machines like the Eee PC saw them as a second and complementary device, which provided on-the-spot mobility or helped to free up the home PC from the kids, he said.
Despite launching a new handheld PC at CES, Toshiba's product marketing manager, Matthew Tumminello, doubted the widespread appeal of UMPC devices and the form factor's longevity. He said the vendor was taking a "wait and see" approach.
"There will be a lot of hype around UMPCs, and the Eee PC is carrying that hype," Tumminello said. "I'd like to see its position once the dust settles. There is a trade-off between usability and price.
"At $500, people can afford to have that experience, but when you start going over $1000, it's not affordable. In the meantime, what we have seen is that a number of vendors have fully blown notebooks with cash back offers for less than $500."