There was a time, before his handlers reigned him in, that Bill Gates would respond to media questions with this preface: "I don't know how technical you are...". His arrogance resurfaced last week in the widely publicized putdown of competitor's attempts to bring computing devices to the Third World.
* When Bill Gates predicted the TabletPC would be the most popular computing device by 2006, I disagreed, and I was right.
* When Microsoft said Windows Vista would ship in 2006, I said 2007. And now Microsoft agrees with me.
Shouldn't I be the brains behind Microsoft?
And the new ultra-mobile personal computer will fail, too. Awkwardly named the UMPC, it is a niche product that fills the needs of Microsoft, but doesn't fil the needs of consumers. We already have ultracompact PCs with keyboards: they're about half the size of a regular notebook computer for about $1500. But they don't sell, because if they did, every manufacturer would be hawking them.
We have ultramobile-ultracompact PCs -- aka PalmPilots -- hugely popular, because they are the right size.
Why will the UMPC fail? Two reasons: (1) the term is ugly; and (2) the product is too big.
Customers won't like the term "UMPC," because it is hard to pronounce, and because it sounds much like a dangerous political party. When they don't like the name, then they don't want to be associated with it. "iPod" is meaningless, but it sounds cool. It has the self-referential "I" combined with the hard-consonant "Puh-od". Better names would be been "mi PC" (my PC and mini PC) or "rPC" (our PC).
Customers won't see the UMPC as a smaller notebook computer, but as a larger PalmPilot. And Microsoft growing the size won't make sense to them, when everyone else is making products smaller. My 3rd PalmPilot is smaller than my first. Cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, and cell phones are all thin, thin, and small. The consumer will ask herself, "Will the UMPC fit my purse?" It won't.
The UMPC has other problems, of course. PalmPilots run all day (and longer) on a single charge. When consumers see UMPCs as big PalmPilots, then they will expect big battery life. It doesn't.
I have a older computing book I keep in my bookshelf-lined office: "The AT&T EO Travel Guide." It's there to remind me that exquistly-planned, ideally-spec'ed, strongly-backed products flop. You may have a similar book on the Apple Newton.
You know the concept is in trouble when the official UMPC Web site asks, "How can you use your Ultra Mobile PC?"