Remember the UMPC: First 7-inch Windows tablets

Remember the UMPC: First 7-inch Windows tablets

Summary: It's worth remembering the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC), with the first small Windows 8 tablets coming soon.


The first small (7-inch to 8-inch) tablets running Windows 8 are expected to appear soon. Enthusiasts are excited to get their hands on small tablets that run full Windows. Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates said these little tablets will help frustrated iPad owners who need full Windows and Office in their hands. I guess he is forgetting that even before the iPad hit the scene, there were small tablets running Windows: The nearly forgotten Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC).

Samsung Q1
(Image: Samsung)

UMPCs were 7-inch tablets running full Windows XP with a touch-friendly interface. The most popular model was from Samsung, whose Q1 raised the bar for Windows devices at the time. Samsung even had a model with a solid-state disk (SSD) in place of a hard drive, which was pushing the envelope of the time (2006).

I started covering the UMPC even before it was commercially available on my jkOnTheRun blog (acquired by GigaOM in 2008). I made a trek to Microsoft's offices to see a number of UMPCs in production that would be coming to market. All of the early UMPCs were about the same size, fairly thick, and weighed under 2 pounds. They ran Windows XP or XP Tablet Edition for use with a pen.

Samsung realized at the time that a Windows device, even a handheld design, would need a keyboard to operate Windows successfully, so it included an innovative thumb keyboard split on both sides of the screen. A joystick-like controller was also included to allow full operation by hand. To make later models smaller, Samsung eventually dropped the keyboard from later Q1 versions.

The UMPC lasted only a few years, as consumers didn't get excited about them. They were expensive, heavy, and had no advertising to get folks excited. Mainstream consumers weren't excited about the ability to run Windows and Office on a little tablet.

This has been addressed in the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. Those will be thin and light, and we can expect to see ads showing the benefits of Windows in a small tablet. It may not be enough, but let's hope that Microsoft and OEMs learned from the failed UMPC and will get these Windows 8 models rolling. It is still to be determined whether folks on the street want to have Office in their pockets. In spite of Gates' statement about Office, I don't ever hear iPad owners complaining about the lack of Office on Apple's tablet.

Related stories

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Samsung, Tablets, Windows 8

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Nobody cares

    The tunnel vision of a lot of IT-minded people makes it hard for them to accept the reality that the overwhelming majority of users simply don't care about being able to run Office on their mobile devices.

    And the ones that do won't be satisfied with the 'non-commercial' use clause, the lack of VBA, and the missing Outlook.

    Microsoft isn't content just with aiming at their feet, it's more like they're putting their foot in their mouth and then shooting it.
    • I disagree.

      Too many people tend to think along the lines that "it's not important to me, so it won't be important to everyone else".

      I'm sure there's a good many people that would want that. Analysts and bloggers alike keep saying MS should make a version of Office available for the iPad.

      Why would they say that if "nobody" wants it?
      William Farrel
      • In order for MS to get maximum market penetration?

        I"m certain many people want Office on their devices but I can't say percentage wise how many actually do in mobile. So would it not be wise form MS to make Office available for all mobile platforms in order to get as many sales of said product as possible?

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
    • I Agree

      There will always be people that use the wrong tool for the job. Pads are excellent tools but are best used for cretin jobs and office is not one of them. Can you make it work...yes but, it becomes a less productive chore. Look at the RT, it is a jack of all trades that does none of them well. A iPad is a much better mobile solution and an ultra book is a much better work solution.

      I have an Nexus 7 which is a great pad which I use often but when I try to push it into an area that does not play to its strengths it is a pain in the rear. My bike is a great method of local transportation but I would not use it for a cross country family vacation.

      I can't think of many things that would be more frustrating then forcing Excel onto a 8" screen but some will insist this a great option, it is not. It will work in a bind but as a productive tool it misses the mark.
      • I'm not saying I want to use my tablet full time for creation things

        That's why I have a desktop. But, I don't see why I shouldn't be able to replace my laptop with a tablet, especially one with a keyboard dock. Personally I have no desire to carry a laptop and a tablet, that's why I help off buying a tablet until windows 8 tablets came out. I would likely be equally happy with an OSX/IOS hybrid or Ubuntu tablet too. As long as it can replace my mobile laptop.
        Sam Wagner
    • I have...

      Outlook and VBA on my Windows tablet... :-S
  • I was really into UMPCs

    The problem was the cost. They will be far less this time around, and I think they'll do a lot better, especially with the other enhancements since.
    • many problems

      Even if you lower the cost you have the problem of using windows apps on a tiny screen. That is just as big or bigger issue. People want tablets specifically BECAUSE they don't have full legacy windows and associated baggage. I am talking about the average consumer - not everyone of course.
      • The difference is now there's

        "metro" apps. They should help out tremendously on small tablets. The nice thing is you still have the desktop apps as an option if you really want to use them.
        Sam Wagner
    • Not Really

      The problem was in 2006 iPhone had not been released yet and MSFT had nobody to copy from. When iPhone was released in 2007, suddenly MSFT had this "revelation" that everything would need a touch screen in the future. Between years 2006 and 2012 MSFT scrapped their tablet plans until Surface RT came out which had a touch screen, an app store, a media player, and a camera. True innovation from MSFT.
  • Was Too Early

    The Samsung Q1 Ultra was plagued by its underpowered CPU, the Intel A110 and anemic GPU.
    It also had to be actively cooled by a small, although almost silent, fan.

    It was innovative but the proper hardware was just not there. Nothing new in this industry.
  • The UMPC was a concept before it's time!

    Windows XP Tablet Edition hit the scene in 2002. Sony introduced the first UMPC in 2004 but they were costly. The screen was just too small to effectively manipulate without a stylus. The processors of the day consumed too much power. Touch technology was expensive and unrefined - as were the TFT displays of the day. In the end, the development of the netbook solved the problem in 2007.

    The netbook started out as a Linux device but potential buyers demanded Windows. Vista was stable but too resource intensive. (It "ran" with 512MB of RAM but "needed" 2GB.) Windows XP was the answer. In 2009, Windows 7 was introduced and ran well on a 1GB netbook (but ran better on a 2GB notebook).

    Windows 8 runs well on any 1GB, 1366x768 netbook but its the Metro UI that makes it work on a 10" touch screen.

    In the long run though, a traditional desktop needs a 10"+ screen to be usable - and still you need a keyboard and touchpad/mouse/stylus.

    The UMPC is dead. The 10" non-touch netbook will quickly turn into a touch tablet. The 7" tablet has become popular for its small size and light weight but it will depend upon a traditional tablet interface (be it iOS, Android, or Metro) to be truly useful.

    Nope, iPad owners don't complain about a lack of Office because they do not expect to be productive on a iPad. The iPad is a companion device for their PC and most every iPad I have seen used in the enterprise has a third-party keyboard so they can easily browse the web and read and send e-mail.
    M Wagner
    • "...potential buyers demanded Windows...."

      S.b. "Microsoft panicked and leaned on its OEMS to include Windows". Potential buyers didn't give a rat's **s.
  • Oh boy

    I miss my Samsung q1. That was probably my favorite handheld ever. If I wasn't so poor I would still have and use that device. I can't wait for the new 7-8 inch windows tablets to come out.
  • Anyone remember the Osborne portable PC?

    If we're talking history, I remember the Osborne PC which was portable (just). I don't know whether it ran on batteries or needed mains power but it had twin 5.25 (full height!) floppy disc drives, no hard disc, and a 4 inch monochrome CRT display. I wonder whether any survive.
    I still have an Amstrad PPC640, with a monochrome reflective LCD (no back light), twin 3.5 inch floppy drives, no hard drive but with a full size keyboard. It runs MSDOS and will run on batteries - 6 D cells if I remember correctly.
    • I remember the osborne.

      It weighed 25 lbs and fit in a gym bag. It was a very interesting computer that came with a word processor (not like word) that was a very close match to the main frame combination of emacs and SCRIBE that I used to produce my Masters thesis. It died an ignoble death when the mistaken announcement was made to "wait for the osborne 2" because it would be supposedly so great. Sales dried up as people waited and there it died.
  • "I don't ever hear iPad owners complaining about the lack of Office"

    "I don't ever hear iPad owners complaining about the lack of Office on Apple's tablet."

    That is the wrong approach to the question of Office in iPads (or in Android).

    The correct way to view the issue is to ask whether an iPad or Android user would like to have or appreciate the option of having Office in their devices. People don't normally complain about not having an option, but, when the option is available, you can be sure that many would jump at the opportunity for getting it.

    It's not about "complaining", but about the desirability of making it available.
  • MS Office IS available for iPad and Android NOW!

    MS (like Google, Adobe, etc) has made Office available as a web app through their Skydrive site. AND, it is free! Yes, latency can be an issue.