Ultraportable laptops: Their rise and possible fall

Whether or not the current generation of ultraportable laptops is a success, we're at the beginning of the move to smaller, more connective devices.

For some users, the new generation of ultraportable notebooks comes close to embodying the Holy Grail for road warriors. Their laptop-like keyboards make them more usable for typing tasks than smart phones, but they are lighter and cheaper than traditional laptops. The original Asus Eee PC, for instance, cost about US$400 and weighed about two pounds when it was introduced last October.

However, while pundits and technology journalists have lavished attention on these products, skeptics have raised questions. For instance, is there anything really special about these devices, or do they just represent old technology in new packaging? Are users as enthusiastic about these tiny laptops as the pundits are? Will they fade away like so many other "next big things"? And perhaps the oddest question: What do we call these things, anyway?

"It's way too early to talk about this being a viable product category," says Avi Greengart, mobile device research director at Current Analysis "I'm not sure how much of a market there is for them, particularly with subnotebooks like MacBook Air with [larger] keyboards and displays getting thinner and lighter. And you can get some real work done on, say, an iPhone or a Nokia E-series smart phone."

Not surprisingly, vendors and other proponents strongly disagree.

"The Eee PC has successfully explored user segments that have been ignored by other notebook vendors," says Kevin Huang, senior director of marketing at Asustek Computer. "For example, a lot of kids use their parents' notebooks, but they are just too heavy to carry to school. But at two pounds, kids can easily put [ultraportables] in their backpacks." Huang insists that, over time, this product category will expand to become attractive to many types of users.

Ultrasmall laptops -- not a new phenomenon

If small laptops like the Asus Eee, MSI Wind, Everex CloudBook and HP Mini-Note 2133 give you a sense of deja vu, it's because these are hardly the first devices of that particular size and shape. For instance, Hewlett-Packard introduced the 3-lb Omnibook 300 in 1993, and that 386-based device developed a small but loyal following.

In the late'90s, several vendors released clamshell devices based on Windows CE (now called Windows Mobile), such as NEC's MobilePro series. These devices looked like tiny laptops, although they used a PDA operating system and could only handle "pocket" versions of desktop applications.

Another similar type of device is the ultramobile PC (UMPC). These devices -- such as the Samsung Q1 Ultra and OQO -- which started appearing in 2006, use a variant of Windows and typically have touch screens as small as 5 in. They have never caught on broadly, perhaps because prices initially approached US$2,000 and because their keyboards are only slightly more spacious than those on smart phones. However, prices have recently dropped closer to $1,000, and they have found a home in vertical markets such as hospitals and warehouses.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags ultraportable laptopsumpc

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Haskin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?