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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 15, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Apple’s laptop is lovely, but is it an “ultramobile”?

As usual, one of the most suprising things out of Macworld this year is the coverage.

There was so much expectation that Apple would introduce an ultra-mobile PC that some respected news outlets are calling Apple’s new laptop an ultramobile.

Don’t get me wrong — the MacBook Air looks fantastic, it will be easier to carry than heavier laptops and it will breath fresh air into the PC market.

But it’s ultrathin, not ultramobile. If it has a 13-inch screen, a full keyboard and a clamshell case, it’s a laptop. Even Apple’s calling it a “notebook” computer, which is its word for laptop.

Am I off base here?

Until the reporters fired up their MacBooks in San Francisco today, ultramobile referred to handheld computers with screens up to around 7 inches — basically the machines that fall between the iPhone and small laptops.

Intel, which builds the engines used in Apple’s new machines, initially framed the ultramobile category as devices with 5-in. to 7-in. displays. Last year it made that category even more specific, by adding a new category — “mobile Internet device” — referring to devices with 4-in, to 6-in. displays.

Microsoft and Intel used to have high expectations for UMPCs — they expected 100 million to be sold in 2008. The takeoff hasn’t happened yet in part because the devices have been somewhat eclipsed by Internet capable phones, such as Apple’s iPhone.

I’m curious to know whether Apple is still developing the rumored touch-screen ultramobile. That’s a category that desperately needs some fresh air and Steve Jobs’ marketing genius, but maybe Apple decided there’s not big enough market for the purse-sized machines.

Or maybe Apple’s stuck like all the other OEMs waiting for new hardware, such as Intel’s Menlow platform, that they need to build tiny computers that are reasonably priced and have enough power and battery life to finally make ultramobiles a must-have device.

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