The mobile computing giant says it will have a mini-note product “very soon”
Toshiba is set to join industry heavyweights HP and Dell in the mainstream surge towards compact mini-note PCs. “We’ve been looking at the market place and we will have a ULPC very soon” Mark Whittard, General Manager of Toshiba Australia, revealed to APCmag.com during the company’s annual MobileXchange mobile computing forum in Sydney.
While wary of sharing any other details on the product, and having been critical of smaller 7 inch mini-notes for their awkward usability, when asked about finding the right size Whittard said “I per think it’s probably around 9 inches, that’s about as small as you can go”.
Whittard uses ULPC as shorthand for “ultra-low cost personal computer” (not, as one may expect, ultra-light
personal computer). He describes this as being identical to a netbook or mini-note, but deliberately employs the ULPC term to shift emphasis to the device's low production cost and selling price. On the other hand, Whittard sees the ultra-mobile PC or UMPC form factor as being better suited to “a full function PC”.
Toshiba has plenty of experience in melding small forms with high functionality. Its fondly-remembered Libretto series of ultra-portables, which culminated in the 2005’s Libretto U100, had screen sizes of 6.1-7.2 inches but also a QWERTY keypad and up to a 60GB hard disk. Meanwhile, the waif-like Portege R200 and R500 models set new benchmarks in the ‘thin and light’ category long before Apple’s MacBook Air slinked into the catwalk and stole the spotlight.
“We can build any product, but the reality is you have to have a return on your engineering investment, and the problem with the ULPC is while it woke up the market and attracted buyers because it was $499, all it did was shift the vendors’ cheapest products down a few hundred dollars” Whittard reflects. His goal, he said, was to see if Toshiba could produce a premium ULPC or mini-note at a slightly higher price by adding “a few hundred dollars” to the sticker.
Toshiba’s existing technology bets would favour a mini-note running Windows rather than Linux with a large solid state drive, an Atom processor and a rich set of features similar to the solid spec of HP's mini-note, allowing the device to be aimed at the premium education and business markets where Toshiba enjoys its strongest plays.
As proof of what could be achieved at the higher end of the technology and price scale, Whittard also demonstrated a paperback-sized touch-screen device cooked up in Toshiba’s R&D labs. While equipped with only a 5.6 inch screen, the un-named prototype packed a 64GB solid state drive, a GPS receiver and ran Windows Vista in tablet mode.