Erik Ableson 3 minute read
May 23, 2008

iPhone vs UMPC : Do You Have That Portable in a Midsize?

Do You Have That Portable in a Midsize? - New York Times: "This portable world is now neatly broken into gadgets that fit comfortably in your pocket and devices that snuggle equally comfortably on your lap. Is there room for a third category? Perhaps a new class of consumer gadgets that fits somewhere between hand-held and laptop?"

(Via New York Times.)

Having watched and played with various different computers in the alternate form factors, I think the options come down to this:

  • Gadgets that fit in your pocket
  • Gadgets that don't fit in your pocket

If it doesn't fit in your pocket, then you need something to carry it around in. As long as you're toting around a backpack or a briefcase, you might as well take a full-sized notebook. The limitations on these in-between devices are currently too important to be able to use them as your primary mobile workstation. Although the line between a full sized-notebook and a subnotebook are blurring in terms of functionality. The MacBook Air stands out as device that straddles the two camps - big enough in terms of keyboard and screen to justify using it as a content creation device, but light enough to slide into most regular bags without much additional weight penalty. However it's considerably more powerful than the current crop of ultra-cheap portables like the Eee. You won't want to run Lightroom on one of those, but you can use it to be basic sorting and organizing of photos for example.

Don't get me wrong - I think many of these devices, like the Nokia Internet Tablets, are way cool. The problem is the ergonomics of using this device in day to day life. With the iPhone, it's been demonstrated that you can have a more than acceptable internet experience on the pocket-sized gadget. From a practical standpoint, the notebook appears to be the smallest practical form factor for creating content, rather than simply consuming it. The Nokia's and UMPC's are pretty good for consuming media and light-duty communications. But if I can do the same thing with a pocket device why would I cart around anything larger?

The author's comment about the Moleskin is appropriate. The devices we keep on our person are for organizing (and now communicating) more than for creating. Palm's current failure in the market has nothing to do with a failure of the basic idea of a pocket-sized device that communicates and holds a small local data set. They just have a failure to keep up with other companies' better implementations of the same idea.

To further refine the categories we end up with this:


Granted there are some specific exceptions to this generalization, like podcasters who use the mid-sized boxes as portable recording studios, but that kind of functionality is being pushed down into the smaller devices so the only real useful differentiation is the combination of a larger screen and the attendant hassle of finding a way to carry it around.

Does anyone know of a killer application, or just any application that stands out when used on a UMPC vs the latest generation of 480x320 phone/PDAs? The only thing that I had come to mind potentially was in a doctor's office but even there, I find that an iPhone terminal, combined with desktop computers would be more ergonomic (although those white jackets have huge pockets...).

Update - whoops - the image didn't come through from MarsEdit - I have to add them in manually afterwards.