Some Thoughts on OQO and The Future of Mobile Computing

News about OQO and their unlikely ability to bring the Model 02+ to market has got me thinking about what made OQO and their handheld computer so special and I’d like to share a few of those thoughts.

Without a doubt, OQO defined ultra-mobile computing with their Model 02 / 2+: a 5″ device, a thumbable keyboard, integrated WWAN, slider screen to reveal the keyboard, built-in extended battery support, and an active digitizer for inking notes. A person could throw it in their jacket pocket, go about their day, and not have any worries about suddenly having to get on to the internet or crank out a document, ftp a file, work in Word, fix something in Dreamweaver, or remote desktop to another computer. Having a built-in keyboard gave it a one-up over their cheaper cousins, the UMPC. Being pocketable and unobtrusive, gave it a one-up over the much cheaper netbooks. Those qualities, and much more, made it the consummate all-in-one device for getting work done on the fly.

I personally purchased a Model 02 and used it day-in and day-out for at least 6 – 9 months. It went with me to Yellowstone, went on service calls to customer sites, was my companion during Boy Scout camping trips, was dockable in my PT Cruiser, and was my key to being “available” when holed away in hospital rooms. We at GottaBeMobile lived on the Model 02 during CES 2008. While the Model 02 didn’t crunch video that superbly, it did allow us to easily post up news stories on the fly from the bus, convention floor, or taxi cab. We had a no-compromise full computer in our pocket. As much as I loved Motion Computing’s LS800 Tablet PC, the Model 02 provided me that extra bit of productivity with their thumbable keyboard.

Although the Model 02 was an excellent ultra-mobile computer, it did have areas to improve upon: price, video playback, touch, processor, limited RAM, and more portable integrated wireless. OQO addressed all those areas with their Model 2+, which we showed everyone during CES 2009. I was personally saving up money to purchase a Model 2+, and was looking forward to reintegrating the OQO into my personal life and business workflow again.

What I appreciate about OQO is that they raised the bar in terms of product excellence, innovation, mobility, and didn’t give up an inch when it came to engineering and design. In a day of me-too laptop and netbook computers, those traits are becoming harder and harder to find. They provided all of us with a glimpse of what was possible when it came to defining mobile computing. I’ve had the privlege of meeting and working with a number of the key people behind OQO. The excellence that we see in their products has also been evident in my day-to-day communications with them.

Unfortunately, businesses are having to make some hard decisions when it comes to purchasing mobile computers. When a company can buy two to three netbooks for the price of one Model 2+ and meet similar (although not equal) mobility needs, it doesn’t take long to figure out what will win out. The rise of the iPhone and cloud computing, in my opinion, also provided OQO with some real challenges. Although they may not provide everything an OQO Model 2+ could offer in terms of computer power and having a full computer in your pocket, devices like the iPhone and netbooks are “good enough” to meet the needs, and that is a major driving factor in today’s economy.

I believe we will see the Model 2+ live on through the MID platform and in various other small form factor devices. I’m still holding out hope that a company will see the longterm value that a device like the Model 2+ offers those who walk while they work while providing a no-compromise computing solution. Going forward, the key is in providing an infrastructure to lower the Model 2+ / 3+ cost of entry, and a company with the right infrastructure and capital could do that. OQO may be a little ahead of its’ time, but a company would be wise to scoop up their IP and continue to innovate while the economy slowly improves. The market will again see a need a for a Model 2+, and somebody needs to be ready to provide that solution when that time is ripe. Whether at OQO, an acquiring company, or through another venture, I have no doubt we will see the people behind OQO continue to innovate, design, engineer, and shape the mobile computing industry. It saddens me that we may not see an OQO Model 2+ come to market, but we will see the impact that OQO has made live itself out throughout the mobile industry as a whole.