If you’re itching to upgrade to Windows Vista, the new Microsoft operating system to be launched Monday, January 29, chances are you’ll need a new computer, given Vista’s hefty hardware requirements. And when you think about spending $1,000 or more on that computer, chances are, you’re picturing a desktop or a laptop–not a half-kilogram device with a screen smaller than a piece of toast.
But engineers at San Francisco-based OQO (pronounced “oh-kyoo-oh”) think 2007 might be the year when U.S. computer buyers come to think of diminutive “ultramobile PCs” as practical alternatives to the personal computer’s beefier desktop and laptop manifestations. Their new OQO 02, launched January 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is 14 centimeters wide, 8 centimeters high, and 3 centimeters thick–small enough to toss in a purse or a large pocket. Yet it’s a full Windows Vista-capable computer, with a 1.5-gigahertz processor, an 800-by-480-pixel touch screen, a slide-out keyboard, and three kinds of wireless connectivity.
“If you’re a mobile professional, you need to be connected to the Web and access applications as part of your daily life–so your computer needs to be small enough and light enough that you’re willing to take it with you when you leave your desk,” says Bob Rosin, vice president of marketing at OQO. Laptops don’t meet that standard, Rosin argues. “If your computer weighs five pounds and requires a briefcase, that’s very different from something you could throw in your jacket pocket.”
The company’s previous product, the OQO 01, held the title of “world’s smallest Windows PC” for two years and attracted business customers who needed small PCs for field inspections and similar mobile activities. But as a general personal-computing device, the OQO 01 was met with mixed reviews and sluggish sales. The new model includes many upgrades recommended by OQO 01 owners, such as a brighter screen, a better keyboard, more-powerful batteries, and a docking station with an optical disk drive, according to Rosin.
Even with such improvements, it’s not clear whether U.S. mobile professionals–OQO’s initial target market–will be attracted to sub-notebook-sized PCs. The OQO 02 belongs to a new generation of small Windows computers, including ultramobile PCs such as the Samsung Q1, that can run the same software as Windows desktops and laptops but are designed to be used from a sofa, conference room, or airplane seat. Miniaturized PCs have proved popular in Japan, where consumers have shown a willingness to pay extra for high-powered devices in small packages. But the gadgets are still largely untested in the United States, where they’re often criticized for their slow performance, their tiny or nonexistent keyboards, and their high prices. (At $1,000 to $2,000, the devices often cost more than laptops of equivalent power.)
Some consumer-electronics watchers say OQO and other companies are beginning to overcome the basic problems that make small PCs tricky to use. For example, U.S. users don’t like to type or write on touch screens, so some manufacturers are including real keyboards with improved tactile feedback, while others are simplifying onscreen interfaces so that users can get more things done with fewer gestures and clicks.