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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 14, 2008 10:46 AM

Did PC makers' UMPC frittering set stage for Apple's little laptop?

Posted by Brier Dudley

While Apple fans are getting excited about the smaller laptop that Steve Jobs is expected to announce Tuesday, the PC crowd is wondering whatever happened to the Ultra-Mobile PC platform that Microsoft and Intel announced a few years ago.

Clunky first versions deflated the UMPC hype, but crowds at CES seemed excited by demonstrations of sleeker models built on Intel's "Menlow" platform that's coming later this year.

Apple's surely going to do something with Intel's new platform. If it follows the path of Casio, Lenovo, Toshiba and others showing at CES, it could roll out a thin (half-inch thick?) wireless handheld computing tablet with a touch-screen interface.

With Apple's higher price points, it could probably also afford to give its ultra-portable a big solid-state hard-drives that promise faster speeds and more durability.

Meanwhile, there's no consensus among PC makers around the ideal UMPC form -- or even a term to describe the devices -- so they're leaving it to Apple to tell consumers what they want. I don't know the inside baseball, but the initial platform work by Microsoft and Intel that produced some Apple-grade vision and reference designs seemed to taper off after Intel's announcement last April that it was working with companies building open-source versions.

The current muddle of UMPC options is explored today in a nice IDG story that Network World is running. Sorry to spoil the kicker, but it ends with a great quote from Hewlett-Packard's personal systems CTO, Phil McKinney:

"Let a marketing person loose for 10 minutes and they'll come up with a category. You can say UMPC or MID, what the hell's the difference?"

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.