Home Editorials Some Thoughts on OQO and The Future of Mobile Computing

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.

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18 Comments

  1. Al

    04/25/2009 at 12:23 pm

    Rob you and most tech lovers still are missing the key thing right in front of your face. That is most people expect any PC including any UMPC PC to provide a touch type keyboard. It is not practical to use two fingers to use any PC software for real computing work.

    OQO had great technology for building the PC so tiny but they failed due to the design not the price at all. Price is only a factor due to the poor input design making it more of a toy that can not be your only PC. Their 2+ model is no different and would fail just like the rest of the OQO products have in sales numbers.

    There are millions whom do want a full PC in their pocket. But they expect it to have a built in touch type keyboard. Look back at the handhelds of the 1990’s like HP Jornada 720/728, Psion 5mx, and others. They sold over 2.3 million a year even with an operating system not perfected that was not a full desktop compatible system. If OQO or anyone else created a modern version of those designs then we would see a huge new UMPC revolution. If any UMPC or MID, etc. does not provide a touch type keyboard they will never be popular; that is the simple fact right in front of your face that you ignore.

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  2. Rob Bushway

    04/25/2009 at 12:52 pm

    I disagree with you that the simple fact / or recipe for success is a touchtype keyboard – look a the differences between the blackberry and iphone. Both are successes, with many arguing the blackberry as the most productive among the two for productive emailing. A touch type keyboard is important for pcs, but given the task and mobility need, a thumbable keyboard is productive as well. Can you imagine walking and typing with a netbook? What about standing and typing on a netbook or sony vaio p? I didn’t think so…

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  3. scoobie

    04/25/2009 at 2:52 pm

    There’s room enough for both keyboards and thumbboards and both will continue to co-exist in my opinion, with many people having both options I reckon.

    Having said that though all along I’ve agreed with Al that OQO would have been better off to do a Psion type design, mainly because the smartphones (Blackberry , iphone etc) are taking a hold of the thumbboard market/highly pocketable devices.

    Interestingly the new UMID M1 is reportedly a good compromise between touch type and thumbboard. And this is exactly the design I thought OQO should have gone for.

    My view is OQO has been squeezed by dreadful reliability, netbooks cutting the perceived value price at one end, and vastly improved smartphones at the other end. I got an iphone after my OQO 02. I stopped using the OQO because it was a pain to boot compared to the iphone. And I’ve been suprised by how much on the iphone I’ve been able to do that I used to do on the oqo.

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  4. sbtablet

    04/25/2009 at 3:40 pm

    I wonder myself how much the problems of the OQO have to do with the financial crunch and the difficulty of getting business loans these days.

    For those who want inking and pocketability, the OQO 2+ was something to really look forward to, and I am sorry to see that it won’t come about.

    I also don’t believe that the thumbsize keyboard was the problem. I think that the really nice (and portable) dock for the OQO 2 did a lot for those who need to sit and work at a regular keyboard. With the dock, a keyboard and an external monitor, it was fully capable of being a person’s only computer. Hugo Ortega showed us that.

    The cost, the Vista experience, and the squeeze from other devices seem to me to be the biggest issues.

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  5. Lenard

    04/25/2009 at 4:21 pm

    OQO’s problems are not that much due to the economy, I think it just pushed them over as they were already on their last legs.

    I do agree with the postings above that what good is a UMPC without a keyboard? They are full PC’s not a smartphone. If I wanted a thumb based tiny computer I would get a smartphone. Smartphones have all the built in wireless, long battery life, instant on and are made for simple things where a thumb keyboard is adequate still not great.

    For real work I need a real PC and it has to have a real keyboard be it standard size or a handheld size. A pocket PC like the OQO is a great idea and still is as there has yet to be one made. I say that as the OQO was not ideal with their query thumb keys. For a pocket PC to work it must be just like a laptop everything built in and ready to work.

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  6. scoobie

    04/25/2009 at 4:41 pm

    If you look at the umpc/ultra-portable market you can break it down into 3 segments:

    – With-Keyboard devices – These seem to sell well irrespective of size and price – The netbooks range from very small and expensive (Sony P) to what I would call medium sized devices like the Dell 10 (which are cheap). They all seem to sell well irrespective of price. That tells me, for the Windows market at least requires keyboards. Maybe this will change with Windows 7

    – Thumbboard devices – eg OQO and Sony UX. Both with windows, both quite high priced to deliver the technology to the size to run windows. I think its fair to say neither devices sold that well. OQO was selling 13,000 units per year I hear. There is a rumour Sony has another U series replacement in the lab but hasn’t released it because of the economy. My conclusion is this market for Windows thumbboards is quite niche still and maybe always will be.

    – Slates – These haven’t sold that well if they are big and run windows, but pocketable devices with a great UI interface like the iphone have.

    So in conclusion, I’m with Al, windows devices only sell well with keyboards.
    For Slates and thumbboards, Windows isn’t key to the market, its all about size and price and usability. For these too segments windows hasn’t proven itself and the last chance will probably be Windows Mobile 7.

    Windows is holding on well in the netbook , small keyboard market but for thumbboards and mini slates it is loosing market share.

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  7. JC

    04/25/2009 at 5:01 pm

    Well, it’s clear that there isn’t a consensus on this. What works one person doesn’t for another and visa versa. e.g., To me, the UMID M1 compromises both the handheld and table top experience. I’d rather get a device that optimizes for the handheld experience and hook up a real keyboard to it for the table top experience. Scoobie is obviously OK with the compromises that Chippy demonstrated in his video.

    (Incidentally, as I’ve said before, if the goal is not to put the device in a pant pocket, the size different between the UMID M1 and the OQO 02 is negligible. However, if the idea is to buy something that fits in a pant pocket, well, the OQO does, I doubt the UMID M1 does. Along those lines, I taped up a cardboard mock up of the Viliv S5 and it does fit in my pant pocket, but I definitely feel the extra .6in in length and the UMID is yet longer not to mention wider.)

    No one device is right for everyone. The UMID M1 is not the right device for me, but it clearly is for a segment of the market. The reviews for the Viliv S5 seem to split along how much the reviewer wants a physical keyboard and how well he or she adapts to the haptic virtual keyboard. Those who are ok with the haptic keyboard and/or an external keyboard tend to give it good reviews. Those who aren’t tend to be less glowing about it.

    OQO’s niche is that it’s the smallest and most computationally powerful of the bunch. In going there, the company may have gone after the smallest segment of an already niche market. e.g., it fits in a pant pocket, but it still may not have been small enough for people to think of it as a pocket sized device. (OQO didn’t help things by photographing it as if it were the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.) However, if it were any smaller and I doubt they could have made it smaller, running desktop applications might not be useful. One of the comments on Engadget when OQO announced the 2+ was something like “Now I can run Photoshop while riding my bicycle.” i.e., running full blown desktop applications on something that fits in a pant pocket is not a mainstream demand. As it turns out, it may not even be a profitable niche.

    With OQO gone, whoever it is that needs something that fits in a pant pocket and is capable of running full-blown desktop applications no longer has a device designed just for them. The Viliv S5 is probably the closest substitute assuming he’s OK with the lower computational power and lack of a physical text entry mode. (The UMID is too large. The Aigo has even less computational power.)

    To me, that’s the sad thing about OQO. If they’re not around, the market is less diverse and we’re all the worse off for that. Even if they didn’t make what you wanted, they helped stimulate competition.

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  8. JC

    04/25/2009 at 5:05 pm

    [Sorry, I just saw Scoobie’s second post.]
    Windows devices only sell well with keyboards so far. Given all the buzz that surrounds the Viliv S5, given that with Windows 7 Microsoft may finally come up with a usable tablet experience, the future may not necessarily reflect the past.

    If companies only ever release products that are like what other companies have released in the past, we would never get anything new and innovative. That would be depressing…

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  9. scoobie

    04/25/2009 at 5:18 pm

    @JC
    I accept there’s a lot of buzz with the viliv S5, but my money is that it won’t sell well. Its another niche umpc. We’ve seen similar buzz with the Sony U750 and Samsung Q1 for instance. Both did well but they hardly set the world alight. Why would you want a viliv when its 2-3 times the size of the iphone, takes a minute to boot up and it hampered by windows? Don’t get me wrong, I think it will sell to a niche, but the idea its changing the umpc market, I don’t believe.

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  10. HG

    04/26/2009 at 1:45 am

    Rob, yes it’s bad that OQO will be closing its doors, and they did have a good device. I think with all these MID’s coming out and around the size of the OQO it just made the OQO to expensive. I do agree with you that, all these small MID’s and including the OQO are great for when your on the move that you just need to do some short remote login to fix a client desktop, or ftp files, transfer some files, etc… but the OQO had a advantage that most MID’s don’t have. That was the docking station that would make the OQO a desktop computer. I got the Aigo P8860 when it was released last year in July, and I really like this device for the same reason, that I just put it in my back pocket and resume from stand by in 3 seconds. I only use the Aigo when I know that I will just be using for short uses. I did consider getting the OQO, but for what I would use it, I didn’t need the power or storage. I use the Aigo with XP Pro and 16GB microSD.

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  11. JC

    04/26/2009 at 6:27 am

    @scoobie
    I’m merely reacting to the implicit “I don’t need this so therefore it can’t sell well” vibe that’s all over this comment thread. As I said, we will all make difference choices based on our own specific needs. This is why I like a diversity in the market place.

    I said Viliv S5 may sell well, not that it might change the UMPC market. Please don’t confuse the two. It’s not necessary for all subsequent UMPCs to be slates in order for it to sell well. I merely cited it as an example of a keyboard-less device that’s gotten a lot of buzz. (Given that Viliv seems to make it available only in small lots, they will need to do this often in order for it to sell in significant numbers though.) I also suggested a reason why the future may be different from the past. Nothing I said is unreasonable.

    The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating. It will be interesting to see how Windows 7 affects the market (or doesn’t affect the market).

    Personally, I don’t think any UMPC type device will “set the world alight.” As you have mentioned, why would you want a UMPC when you could have an iPhone instead. The beloved UMID M1 probably doesn’t fit in a pocket, but you consider it approximately the same size as a Viliv or an OQO. Everything you’ve said about the Viliv then applies to the UMID M1 too.

    Even Al admits that touch typing on the M1 keyboard is highly unlikely. That makes its keyboard essentially a thumb board that you can also use while sitting at a table. It sounds perfect for you, and that’s wonderful. However, it will likely sell to a niche, just like any other successful UMPC. It just happens that the UMID M1 niche includes you while the Viliv S5 niche does not.

    Diversity is good. If the worst flaw a device has is that it’s not what you, personally, are looking for, it’s doing pretty well.

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  12. GoX

    04/26/2009 at 2:40 pm

    Apple should buy OQO and deliver the ultimate TRIPLE-BOOT OQO: Mac, Windows and Linux. Awesome!

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  13. Al

    04/26/2009 at 7:16 pm

    Blackberry and Iphones are all phone/pda’s the OQO is not and has had very weak sales for their entire existence. People do not want a full PC to walk and thumb input, they want a full PC to do real work. There are millions whom want to have the same functionality of their laptop but have it small enough to carry.

    People have already demonstrated that with a Full PC OS computer they will not buy a thumb based version. As others have said the computers with a full keyboard all have sold well.

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  14. blash

    04/26/2009 at 10:00 pm

    Looking at the OQO website now and seeing the stuff on the 2+, all I gotta say is… wow. If I wasn’t a broke college student and had some money, I would DEFINITELY pick one up. All it needs is a built in mic and speaker to make it a Skype-on-the-fly phone, and I would ditch AT&T and my iPhone forever.

    Please, bring this back in a few years so I can buy one.

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  15. Al

    04/27/2009 at 11:30 am

    Scobbie summed it up very well. The fact is that thus far no UMPC without a keyboard has sold very well. I still am amazed at OQO and others whom just ignore the obvious that most people whom use a full desktop OS and software do so with a keyboard. That is what is prefered and easier to use. A thumb key arrangement is not and OQO and others have spent almost a decade with no results. Technology is only going to be popular if it enhances the way we work and thumb inputing on a full Vista OS and softwre is not.

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  16. Wogaut

    04/27/2009 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve used my OQO for almost any computer task, and while I still have my trusted Kinesis Ergo keyboard in the office, on the road I used OQOs thumbkeyboard (the 02 is much more comfortable than the 01 kbd) for anything from email to programming Matlab code! And seriously, sometimes I do wish for a bigger screen when having several windows with toolbars open (that’s the price you pay for the formfactor), but the lack of touchtype kbd was just secondary. As Rob said, try running around with a notebook and keep typing. Guys, it’s an UMPC, not a netbook or notebook!

    I wonder how many of the people here that keep on yakking about the lack of a touchtype keyboard with the OQO have really owned an OQO02 and used it in their daily routine?!

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  17. Genjinaro

    04/28/2009 at 12:42 pm

    lol I find it funny to see some say the keboard was the problem. There is nothing wrong with any of the OQO models, the problem is price. Pure and simple.

    The Viliv S5 will sell very well because its not only good but it also launches at an reachable price and for those who are patient it will be that much more affordable.
    It follow the current trend of touch enabled devices & alot of supporting reviews, there is also the battery life which is very good given most UMPCs like it don’t last as long in usage at such a size.

    If OQO had sold the earlier models around $530-800 I think they’d be fairing alittle better, I’m not sure how much it costs to produce a single unit but I doubt its $,$$$ figures.

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  18. Al

    04/29/2009 at 10:21 pm

    I have used an OOQ and the lack of a keyboard was too much for me to keep it. That lack of the normal prefered input method of how everyone in the world generally uses any full Windows PC is the reason for their weak sales. Everyone for decades has used a touch type keyboard and a thumb keyboard is NOT what people will buy; 8 years of OQO trying to sell it prove that.

    Genjinaro what most people really mean about price is that since the OQO is limited to thumb input you can not use it as your sole PC so in that respect it is a very expensive toy. People do want a pocket computer but they want to use it the same way they use a dekstop or laptop, that is with a touch type keyboard. The S5 and other UMPC’s still represent a tiny market as the entire UMPC market only sells 300-350K a year. OQO could cut the price in half and that would not generate enough sales for them to become profitable.

    None of the UMPC’s without a keyboard have generated much sales at all so even if OQO cut prices it would have zero affect on their fate. They had great technology in making the PC so small but they made a deathly mistake by using the old school design of a HP 200LX instead of a more popular HP Jornada 720 type design.

    Rob, for a full PC nobody wants to replace an easier to use and type many words per minute with a thumb key PC that types very slow. I am shocked that the fact that over 99% of all of the full PC computers use a touch type keyboard is not clear to UMPC designers and you. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier not harder. I can type about 55-65 words per minute so why would I want to use a computer that would be ten times at least slower to do something that would so easy with a keyboard? People will not want a thumb keyboard for a full PC. OQO has tried for 8years before netbooks and even when smart phones were not as popular yet they still failed to get sales.

    OQO if they had made it a simple touch type keyboard clamshell would not only be in business but would be profitable instead of going out of business.

    Reply

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