2008 Year of the UMPC for Everyone Except Microsoft?

In a strange ironic way, it looks like 2008 will be the year of the UMPC (Ultra Mobile Personal Computer) for everyone except Microsoft (who coined the term). One model of the Asustek Eee PC has been shipping for a couple of weeks now for a reasonable price ($399) and is getting pretty good reviews. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader with built-in Sprint PCS EVDO service became available this week. The, hmm, 4th generation Nokia N810 just started shipping. And, this model finally has a physical QWERTY mini-keyboard. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) is expected to ship before the end of the year. And, if you hurry, you can get opt to donate one and get one your self through their Give One Get One (G1G1) program that runs through Nov. 26. And, every one of these products is available for under $500. In fact, at $450, the Nokia N810 is the only one more than $400.

The least expensive Microsoft based UMPC I could find (although the Asustek Eee PC can run Windows XP, it is not anymore a true Microsoft UMPC any more than any of the other devices I’ve mentioned ab0ve) is $890. And, well, the world isn’t exactly breaking down doors in a rush to buy these things are they?

All of the sub-$500 non-Microsoft UMPCs have relatively limited flash RAM storage (a few gigs at most). However, there is that persistent rumor that Apple is going to announce some kind of sub-notebook at the January 2008 MacWorld in San Francisco. If true, I’m sure this will throw the UMPC world (both Microsoft and non-Microsoft) in a spin the same way the iPhone did for the phone world this past summer.

So, the question is: Can Microsoft and its hardware partners come up with an UMPC that hits the $500 price mark that was originally stated as the target price back in March 2006: Pricing will be determined by our OEM partners. We anticipate pricing in the US$599-$999 price-range. Part of our objective in creating the original reference design for the UMPC category was to engineer a platform that’s both very compact and, through careful component choice, possible to sell for $500 MSRP.

So far, they haven’t even come close to that magic number that everyone else seems to have achieved.