MID-life crisis: the end of OQO, and the end of an idea

May 23, 2009

If you want to know what kind of history OQO has at Ars, just check out this Google search, which will cough up coverage that goes back to at least 2002. We’ve covered the launches of the various OQO products over the years, as the company’s handheld PCs always seemed like they were on the verge of becoming the Next Big Thing… once someone figured out a killer app for them.

Alas, the OQO—and with it the handheld "PC"—is an idea whose time never came. OQO now looks to be packing it in, and I suspect that the MID/UMPC form factor in general has lost favor within Intel as well.

Like so many other companies that hadn’t quite hit their stride by the time the economic downturn swept in last year, OQO is now apparently beset by financial difficulties that are so severe that it has shut off all support service and closed its phone lines. An OQO Talk bulletin board post (via Engadget) brings the sad news in the form of a note purportedly from OQO:

A Note from OQO Inc.

"We are sad to report that due to financial constraints, OQO is not able to offer repair and service support at this time. We are deeply sorry that despite our best intentions, we are unable to provide continued support for our faithful customers. Please accept our sincerest apologies."

I spoke to someone from OQO who could neither confirm nor deny any of the stories currently circulating about the company’s situation, nor could she vouch for the authenticity of the note above. However, I suspect that it’s all true, and I’m currently waiting on a reply from someone at OQO who can actually speak to this story.

Intel may be packing it in, too

I wrote quite a bit about OQO’s latest product, the Model 02, at CES, and my main gripe was that the Windows experience just wasn’t suited to a device of OQO’s size. And this isn’t Microsoft’s fault—OS X would be as ill-suited to the OQO as Windows currently is. As I said in my initial coverage of the OLED-based, Atom-powered OQO that I played with at CES: it’s the paradigm, stupid. WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer) just doesn’t work in the OQO form factor, period. And by putting Windows on the OQO, you wind up with a device that’s great in theory and pointless in practice, because desktop OSes just don’t function well in that form factor.

Of course, the OQO form factor is also the MID/UMPC form factor, and as we all know from Intel’s marketing materials, the main enterprise case for the UMPC is that it runs Windows (a UMPC is just a MID with Windows installed, instead of Linux). Now, Intel uses various euphemisms for "runs Windows," like "whole Internet experience" and "IA installed base" and so on, but we know what they mean.

Intel’s basic use case for the UMPC is that it will go into non-consumer vertical applications where it provides one-the-go access to some specific Windows app for an on-the-go workforce, like FedEx, or for people in the hospitality industry. The idea here is that there are all of these large companies out there who have specific Windows apps that people need access to in non-desktop situations, so they’re supposed to go out and buy UMPCs to run those (often custom, in-house) Windows apps.

But the problem here is twofold: first, the form factor simply does not work for Windows apps, and second, even if it did, IT spending is down so much that nobody is even upgrading their existing machines, much less shelling out for something as experimental as deploying a fleet of brand new mobiles just to run some legacy in-house Windows app that everyone probably hates.

I have good reason to believe that Intel is scaling back their plans for the MID/UMPC form factor in recognition of these realities. I would be quite surprised to see as large an MID/UMPC presence at CES 2010 as there was this past January. This idea has had almost a decade to catch on, thanks to OQO, and it simply has not. All who invested in it were assuming (hoping?) that price was the barrier, and now that Moore’s Law has brought the price down, it has become apparent that the UMPC is simply an awkward, neither-fish-nor-fowl solution looking for a problem.

Update: A reader makes a good catch on the MID/UMPC distinction, and I’ve tweaked the article’s language. Read my response in the discussion thread for more detail on this.

This post has been written by Jon Stokes on May 22, 2009 1:59 PM couresy of arstechnica.com.


One Response to “MID-life crisis: the end of OQO, and the end of an idea”

  1. Nice keep up the good work. where can we subscribe to the sites newletter?

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