Developing Windows Vista Applications for the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC)
Growing up in the 80s, two of the concepts that drew me in to computer science were computers that were small enough to take with you (called “Luggables” then) and displays that were thin enough to hang on a wall. Technology has come a long way in that time-and the Ultra-Mobile class of personal computers that run the Windows Vista™ operating system is a great example of that progress. So what is a UMPC and why would I be interested in writing an application that is optimized for it?
Microsoft defines the Ultra-Mobile PC as an ultra-small form factor Windows Vista PC that leverages mobile features for its design. UMPCs weigh less than two pounds, feature a 7-inch or smaller touch-enabled display, and have connectivity features available (Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth®, USB 2.0, and GPRS), so these machines can bring your products to places you never considered before.
UMPCs weigh in at less than two pounds with a 7-inch or smaller touch-enabled display and have all the connectivity features available (Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth, USB 2.0, and GPRS).
When people first see a UMPC, they often ask, “What operating system is it running?”, which is pretty natural due to the UMPC’s small size. Whenever I talk about UMPCs I am talking about the full Microsoft® Windows® operating system. Will these be the fastest Windows Vista machines you can buy? No, at least not in the short term. However, they are fully capable of running the desktop Windows Vista applications that you rely on and provide a great mobile experience.
All UMPCs meet these specifications:
- Intel® or Via™ CPU running at least 900 MHz
- 7” widescreen display or smaller
- Integrated video card with up to 128 MB RAM
- 2.5” HDD with up to 120 GB of storage
- Up to 1 GB of SDRAM
- USB 2.0 ports
- Optional ports for video out and media cards
- Integrated GPS and/or camera
- Integrated high-speed cellular data (such as GPRS)
This is, of course, the current specifications at the time of this article and varies between manufacturers-you’ll see speed, power, and feature improvements over the course of the next few months, as well as the addition of built-in keyboards included in many of the new designs.
What? No Keyboard?
Many of the current UMPC designs are slate models, which rely on the touch screen for input, but several models include a built-in keyboard and a mouse thumbstick for more traditional input. In either case, the input methods on the UMPC provide a natural way to interact with the mobile scenarios mentioned above. The UMPC uses one of the following input methods:
Touch Screen (Select with a Finger)
From the user as well as an application’s point of view, the touch screen works just like the mouse.
The digitizer interprets tap and double-tap on the screen as mouse clicks and double-clicks. Movement of the cursor is also the same, but since you use your finger or a stylus to tap you no longer need to move the pointer from one location to another-you just move your finger.
Stylus (Type or Write with a Pen)
Windows Vista has Tablet PC technology built in, so the UMPC can leverage the operating system components such as the handwriting recognizers and Tablet PC Input Panel previously found only on Tablet PCs.
For the end user this means they can use the stylus to handwrite information right on the screen. The engine converts that data to text, whether it is a Web site address or an e-mail message, and sends it to the application.
The fact that Windows Vista contains Tablet PC technology also opens up the ability for applications to offer ink-based features such as ink gestures, flicks, and handwriting areas in applications without having to take on dependencies-it’s all in the operating system.
Hardware Controls (Navigate and Select with Buttons on the UMPC)
Every UMPC design includes a set of hardware buttons to complement the touch screen. These buttons vary from model to model but include some combination of a directional pad, enter key, page up/down, mouse left/right buttons, and a set of user-configurable buttons.
Users can configure some of the buttons so they can choose what function they perform. For example, a user might reconfigure buttons to play a game that allows the user to select which buttons allow a character to move, attack, or interact in a role-playing game.
Optional: Add on Bluetooth or USB-based Keyboard
Because the UMPC design includes USB 2.0 ports and Bluetooth connectivity, you can use any compatible accessory including keyboards and mice. Devices like Bluetooth headsets and speakers, GPS devices, and cameras are also great pairings.
What Can I Do with a UMPC (That My Laptop Can’t)?
In the spare time I have away from work, I love woodworking. I learned a wood shop lesson long ago-always have the right tool for the task. This rings true for PCs. While it may seem that for mobile computing the laptop fits the bill every time, when you really look at it there are many mobile scenarios that go beyond the laptop. In fact, any scenario beyond the conference room is a case in point.
When you boil it down, the Ultra-Mobile PC has a few unique features that make it the perfect fit for current and new mobile scenarios:
Very small size. If you travel much, you’ll probably agree that in comparison to traveling with a full-size laptop, taking a sub-two-pound device with you is a dream. While the current UMPCs typically weigh between 1.7 - 2 pounds and feature a 7-inch, widescreen display, manufacturers will eventually offer models that are both lighter and smaller (4.8-inch display).
Integrated touch display. Consider a scenario where you try to use a mouse or a notebook touch pad while standing on a subway. In comparison, a touch screen on a UMPC makes your commute more productive. The first time people use a touch digitizer they might be little intimidated. They usually ask where the keyboard is. Once they realize that touching the screen acts just like the mouse, they find it intuitive to use a UMPC. It’s true that you won’t want to write a long article, develop applications, or compute pi to the nth decimal point on a touch display, but it’s all about choosing the right tool for the task.
Low cost. With any new platform, you’ll see higher costs at the early stages, but as hardware manufactures launch additional models you should see significant drops in prices of UMPCs. In part, UMPCs use standard, off-the-shelf components (display, RAM, HDD) to help to reduce the manufacturing cost and make UMPCs a great companion device.
With the integrated WWLAN capabilities, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth via a cell-phone data connection, streaming media is now possible on the go rather than just at your desktop.
Long battery life. The current standard battery configuration runs Windows Vista for 2-3 hours but many manufacturers offer extended batteries to last you more than 5 hours; ample enough time for a decent plane ride or work day with an appropriate power plan. There will always be an opposition between size and weight against longer battery life. The trick is to make use of standby/hibernate and use applications that are optimized for the mobile experience.
The combination of these unique factors with the fact that this platform is running the exact same version of Windows Vista as a desktop or laptop means that the UMPC is another great tool to use for accomplishing mobile computing tasks.