Thursday, March 09, 2006

Is This The New Digital Photo Album? Microsoft Introduces Ultra Mobile PC

On Thursday, March 9, Microsoft unveiled a new category of personal computer. Known as the Ultra-Mobile PC or UMPC, this is a hardback book-sized, full-fledged Windows XP computer running touch-screen software (Microsoft Touch Pack), without the need for a built-in keyboard. Microsoft won't be manufacturing the computers themselves; instead, they were involved in creating standards for a reference machine. The actual computers will be made by companies like Samsung, Founder, or Asus, and they are expected to sell for $499 to $999. Availability is expected in the second quarter of 2006 (that's April to June 2006).

Here's the reference specs for the first generation of UMPCs:
  • Weight of less than 2 lbs (0.9 kg)
  • A 7-inch (17.8 cm) color screen
  • Input via touch screen (including on-screen keyboard) or via stylus
  • USB and bluetooth connectivity, allowing traditional keyboard to be used
  • Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Minimum battery life of 2.5 hours
  • Hard drives in 30 to 60 gigabyte range (same as most notebooks currently available)
  • Processors: Intel Celeron M, Intel Pentium M, or Via C7-M
  • Additional built-in features may also include memory card readers, digital TV tuners, webcam, GPS, fingerprint reader, etc.

Interestingly, the prototype machines being shown at CeBit in Germany feature a built-in stand, allowing the UMPC to stand on its own and act like a digital photo frame or mini movie screen. Given the USB connectivity and the possibility of built-in memory card readers, is the UMPC the new digital photo album? It sure looks that way.

On top of that, for those of us who shoot digital photos on vacations and on location, the UMPC may serve as the ultimate portable backup solution. The large (compared to other backup solutions) screen would allow us to inspect and preview digital images, share them with people like a photo album, and even do adjustments in Photoshop. USB connectivity means that an external DVD burner or hard drive could be connected for further backup of digital images. At home, the UMPC could function as a digital photo frame or even as a digital video recorder for your television set.

I don't know about you, but I am personally very intrigued by the UMPC. The proposed low price, relatively small physical size, full Windows XP capability, and connectivity options would make this a superb computer for travel, for backing up photos on location, and for sharing photographs as a digital frame or digital photo album. Traditional full-size tablet PC computers haven't caught on like regular notebooks computers in clamshell cases, but I think Microsoft may have come up with a winning formula for digital photographers on the go.