Intel (and Microsoft) in your hip pocket

Does Intel have a UMPC announcement up its sleeve?

Intel could have UMPC (Ultramobile PC) news up its sleeve, or possibly in its hip pocket for next week. A number of news sources are reporting that the chipmaker is preparing to announce its latest UMPC (ultramobile PC) platform at its spring Intel Developer Forum, which will takes place in Beijing, China, next week.

For its part, Intel has confirmed to Infoworld—and I’m paraphrasing here—that it will make an announcement about the rumored UMPC announcement this month. But that’s all it’s saying right now. What, if anything UMPC-related, it might say at IDF is still to be determined. However, a new UMPC-related video has cropped up on YouTube (link:  here). The clip, which is not confirmed as being produced by Intel but which ends with an official-looking Intel logo, depicts a future of ubiquitous computing, thanks a number of different UMPC-style devices. I first saw it a link to this video on the GigaOM blog.

If you ask me, the details, such as processor speed, behind the latest UMPC platform—whenever it comes to market—are not nearly as important as the broader potential impact hardware advances might have on the computing space. What’s going to move the needle for the UMPC category is whether or not Intel can help UMPC makers afford to deliver products that are both faster and cheaper. The UMPC's ultimate aim has not changed. Intel and Microsoft created the category in an effort to bridge the gap between a laptop and a cell phone. (UMPCs are supposed to be more portable than a laptop and more useful than a phone.) But with UMPC devices costing $1,000 or more, they’re not much more than a curiosity for most people at this point. Laptops can be found for far less than $1,000 and high-end cellular phones provide what I would consider to be good-enough access to e-mail and the Internet. (That is to say better no access at all.)

I believe that UMPCs could fill the gap. But I don't think they will catch on with most users until they fall below the $500 mark. Thus, while the YouTube video paints a big picture of what could happen with UMPCs and shows some usage scenarios that are pretty straightforward and useful, such as automobile navigation, Intel and Microsoft have a lot of work to do to get there. Until then, UMPCs will be limited to enthusiasts and a small set of business applications. Let me print that receipt for you, Mr. Spooner.