The Shape Shifter

— July 01, 2007

Increased productivity outside the office is quickly becoming a corporate mantra. As such, mobile phones and BlackBerry devices are augmenting desk phones and computers. But useful as these devices are, they often still aren’t enabling the same productivity employees achieve in the office. That’s why manufacturers of ultra-mobile personal computers (UMPCs) are banking on these devices to soon have significant traction inside of enterprises.

UMPCs, characterized as a cross between mobile phones and PCs, are smaller than laptops and Tablet PCs but are more powerful than pocket PCs and smartphones. First launched last summer by key Microsoft and Intel partners, including Samsung and Fujitsu, UMPCs have had less than a year to establish themselves in the crowded portable space. Most players initially targeted the UMPC at enthusiasts and early adopter consumers, not business markets. That’s because processing power, heat dissipation and battery life are technical hurdles that won’t be resolved until Intel releases processors customized for UMPCs in 2008.

“You can’t get the kind of computing power you’d get on a standard laptop, so you end up with legacy processors, such as the Celeron, the lowest-power processors available,” said Todd Einck, co-founder of Black Diamond Advanced Technology, a designer of rugged electronic systems. “Once Intel and others come out with ultra low-power, high-performance CPUs and architectures, we’ll see a plethora of new UMPCs hit the market.”

Companies such as Black Diamond and TabletKiosk, however, have moved ahead, introducing UMPCs targeted at enterprise markets. TabletKiosk was the first to ship a UMPC in the United States, the eo i7209, as part of Microsoft’s UMPC initiative. It now has three UMPC models with varying processing speeds and memory, plus a new ruggedized version called the eo TufTab v7112XT that began shipping in April.

Martin Smekal, president and CEO of TabletKiosk, says UMPCs have taken hold in vertical markets such as automation, healthcare, utilities and hospitality and believes adoption will only grow stronger with improvements to next-generation devices. “As we look at UMPCs going forward, there are three pillars these devices should have: battery life of four-plus hours, the ability to be always connected to the Internet and outdoor viewability,” he explains. “We’ll be able to drive all three by 2008.”

UMPCs may ultimately find their enterprise niche as more rugged, application-specific devices. During the second quarter of 2008, Black Diamond will be shipping its highly anticipated SwitchBack PC, a rugged UMPC that is designed to meet military specifications for harsh environments and includes multiple OS support and a patent-pending detachable/attachable module on the back that can be used to extend functionality by adding additional hardware, devices or connector interfaces.

“The reason the SwitchBack is so intriguing is that personalization is the key differentiator,” said Einck. “Users have the ability to put in what they need, whether that’s a fingerprint reader, an iris scan camera or a regular digital camera.”

Einck says pre-orders of the SwitchBack have exceeded expectations. “We’re seeing demand from a myriad of different vertical markets, and people are coming up with end-user applications we never thought of.” //
 
Lynnette Luna is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience writing about the wireless telecom industry.
 
The rugged Tabletkiosk eo Tuftab brings office professionalism to field service, warehousing and data collection tasks. Its 7-inch touchscreen makes applications easy to access, data easy to input and handwritten notes a cinch. LED backlighting and an integrated biometric fingerprint reader are among its other considerable features. Price: $1,699. www.tabletkiosk.com
 
The OQo 02 features an ergonomic design, backlit thumb keyboard and built-in broadband capabilities that let it connect on the Sprint Power Vision and Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess networks for connectivity outside of hotspots. You can dock it for in-office use, and feel good on the go about its shock-mounted hard drive and drop-detect technology. Pricing starts at $1,499. www.oqo.com
 
The Vulcan FlipStart
is a bit chubby in the hands and yet hard to put down. It runs a full version of Microsoft Windows XP Pro, weighs 1.8 pounds, has a full qwerty keyboard, a Web cam, a touchpad and a pointing stick, and, coolest of all, a little exterior window (Infopane) for checking for new emails without opening the clamshell. Price: $1,999.
www.flipstart.com
 
Intel’s new Santa Rosa Processor and enhanced graphics complement this thin (1.5 inches) and light (4.3 pounds) Fujitsu lifebook t4220 Tablet PC. The screen swivels in either direction,
and the 120GB hard drive is protected by Fujitsu’s 3G Shock Sensor and anti-shock mounting technology. Pricing starts at $1,959. www.fujitsu.com
 
Choice is the name of the game with HP’s 2.9-pound Compaq 2510p. Touchpad or pointstick? Take your pick. Optical drive? Up to you. Attach the extra battery for extended life, but either way, ProtectTools will encrypt the hard drive, QuickLook provides fast views of email, and DuraKeys and DriveGuard will help the 2510p go the distance while looking great. Price starts at $1,599. www.hp.com
 
The Motion Computing C5 mobile clinical assistant (MCA) puts technology from Intel Health, high-speed connectivity and scanning and data-capture tools into a 3-pound form factor with a splash-proof seal for easy wiping and disinfecting. Data is protected with a fingerprint reader, and patients are safer with the right information always at hand. Price: $2,199. www.motioncomputing.com

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