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Wireless+: The Shape of Things to Come

Think ULTRAMOBILE and most likely the picture that springs into ones head is the Intel Corp. prototype that wireless chief Sean Maloney has been showing off all year a small (very small) laptop with all the horsepower of its larger notebook cousins, but none of the weight. Sort of like the Nicole Richie of technology.

That, however, will prove to be the tip of the iceberg as ultramobile devices, or UMDs, begin to come to market in earnest. These devices occupy the space between smartphone and laptop, and will resemble less a typical notebook clamshell design than a consumer electronics device. UMDs are a very exciting, potentially very lucrative area, says ABI Research vice president Stan Schatt. What makes this market so intriguing is that products will assume so many different forms.

Future UMDs might include:

  • Flat-topped devices that break up the qwerty keyboard into halves that are meant to be thumbed (like the Samsung Q1 Ultra)
  • Devices that look like personal DVD players
  • Handsets with tilting, sliding, rotating displays in the 6- to 7-inch range
  • Tablets with touch-screen controls
  • Jumbo-sized phones with larger displays

Some companies, like Intel Corp., break up UMDs into two subcategories: ultramobile PCs (UMPCs), which run Windows and business applications and are aimed at business users, and mobile Internet devices, which target consumers and are more likely to run a Linux operating system.

Were talking about a whole new class of products, says Ian Lao, an analyst with In-Stat. If I were to take a laptop as an example a laptop is semimobile, because you still need to put it down on a lap, tray table, desk, etc. Youre not walking around with it like you would a Sony PSP. But ultramobile means I can use it when Im moving.



Samsungs Q1 Ultra UMD is made for thumbing, not typing.


Fujitsu is working on reducing power consumption for UMDs.


Sony is one of the many consumer electronics makers entering the UMD space.

And unlike a smartphone, a UMD is equipped with a full PC operating system with the ability to offer the same Internet and application experience unmodified as one would find on a fullsized computer, including Java, Flash and other applets. Also, it typically features multiple wireless connectivity technologies Wi-Fi, WiMAX and cellular to maintain anytime, anywhere Internet connectivity.

As such, In-Stats Lao says that usage will be driven by the fact that UMDs will for the first time enable a mobile way to access the Internet and actually create content, rather than simply pulling it. The Achilles heel for todays devices, like the iPhone, is that it only has the ability to pull data, he explains. Take your MP3 players, the BlackBerry, the phone you cant originate content easily on any of them. And, with all these devices, theres no way to share the data between them. You have to send it up to the cloud from one and pull it back down to another. With UMDs, I can generate content, use it on the move and likely share it directly with other devices because of ubiquitous connectivity.

That ubiquitous connectivity is going to be one driver for what analysts see as an exploding market. ABI Research predicts shipments to reach 95 million units by 2012. The coming availability of ubiquitous, high-speed, data-optimized wireless networks (think WiMAX, HSPDA and 802.11n) combined with increasing user awareness of data mobility driven ultimately will create a heady opportunity. In addition, the development of open-access models for both devices and applications is expected to speed things along. Sprint Nextels WiMAX president Barry West says consumer electronics companies and handset manufacturers alike are planning to market the mobile Internet devices under their own brands rather than become locked to a carrier, for instance. According to ABI, the UMD ecosystem eventually will contain hundreds of vendors chipmakers, display and device manufacturers, application developers and service providers.

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

To date, there have been few actual UMD launches and at least one highprofile cancellation in Palm Inc.s Foleo. However, support from big players should change that. For its part, Intel is preparing its Menlow platform for release in the first half of 2008, designed for UMDs and tasked to reduce power consumption and extend battery life a critical factor in making these devices feasible as lifestyle companions. Right behind Menlow in the Intel development pipe is the Moorestown platform, which will offer a tenfold reduction in idle power. Intel already has partners with working Menlow prototypes, including Taiwans OEMs Inventec, Compal, Asus, Quanta and BenQ, and Finlands OEM EB.

Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. also is working to extend the battery life for the ultramobile PC. It announced the development of a one-chip system power management IC for UMDs. The new device, the MB39C308, is designed to more efficiently supply power to the system, memory and chipsets in UMPCs. The company is bullish on the markets prospects. Ultra-compact mobile PCs can run the same operating system as regular-sized PCs, says Davy Yoshida, director of business development at Fujitsu Microelectronics America. UMPCs were launched in 2006, and we forecast the market will reach five million units in 2008.

Sony Corp. already released the VGNUX50 UMPC, which features a sliding screen that reveals a qwerty keyboard, 3.5 hours of battery life, integrated Bluetooth, five-second startup, CF card support and built-in camera, docking station with three USB ports, Ethernet port and monitor port, for use with full-size peripherals.

Samsung Electronics America Inc. released in May the Q1 Ultra, which is perhaps the best-known commercial UMD offering. Q1 Ultra is a second-generation UMD with full PC functionality, a video camera and digital camera, voice recording capability, a multimedia player and between four and eight hours of battery life.

Then theres the software side of things. Microsoft Corp. has developed the Origami Experience, just for UMDs, which layers on top of Windows Vista to provide a touch-screen user interface. The UI enables custom categories, large buttons and personalized icons to organize applications and media (music, video, games, photos). Its touch screen capabilities can be used for document marking, physicians notes, artists mobile palette, and so on.

While UMDs should appeal to enterprise users and consumers alike, business users are expected to be the early adopters. We saw it as an ideal complement for someone who travels frequently and has to carry a five-pound notebook on the road, even though all you want to do is check e-mail, review and edit a spreadsheet or presentations, write a memo and so on. Why lug around that horsepower and size all the time? says Brett Berg, senior product marketing manager at Samsung. On the other end of the scale is the smartphone user. Try to open up a spreadsheet on that and its terrible, and you certainly cant edit it and send it back out.

However, consumer use will come on as well, particularly as companies like Sony extend the success of the Sony PSP mobile gaming device into the UMD category. The everyday user will cross the threshold and realize they want access to data while theyre moving, says Lao. Say youre standing in a store and hear a great song, imagine being able to get on your mobile device and download it over the air right there. It gives you a whole new layer and level of flexibility.

Business and consumer users may find common ground with UMDs ability to generate media content video blogs, sound recordings, pictures, etc. This is especially true for those who are already used to the whole concept of virtualized data via MySpace and YouTube, says Samsungs Berg.

Despite the appeal, UMDs will not replace cell phones or even PCs, making it an additional opportunity for dealers. The iPhone and the iPod conditioned people to expect multiuse mobile, says Lao. But you dont want to hold a wireless DVD player up to the ear to make a call. As for replacing a PC, well, that is an ultra generalist. UMDs will be created to do specific things well, and will have the ability to become a generalist when needed. Theres a difference.

Links
ABI Research www.abiresearch.com
Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. www.fujitsu.com
In-Stat www.instat.com
Intel Corp. www.intel.com
Microsoft Corp. www.microsoft.com
Nokia www.nokia.com
Sony Corp. www.sony.com
Sprint Nextel www.sprint.com

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