OK, So I Was Wrong About Origami - InformationWeek

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Commentary
5/16/2007
06:12 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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OK, So I Was Wrong About Origami

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago Microsoft tried to manipulate the launch of its Origami ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). The reaction wasn't quite what Microsoft anticipated: Origami was basically laughed back into the laboratory. Even I piled on with a blog entry that sniped, "Origami is proof of that old ada

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago Microsoft tried to manipulate the launch of its Origami ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). The reaction wasn't quite what Microsoft anticipated: Origami was basically laughed back into the laboratory. Even I piled on with a blog entry that sniped, "Origami is proof of that old adage that when what you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Microsoft's got Windows, so everything looks like a Windows PC. It's a company that needs some new ideas. Meanwhile, I don't expect we'll hear much more about Origami." So this week at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here what am I hearing about? Right. Origami.But this is not last year's Origami. Ultra-mobile PCs have come a long way in a short time. While the UMPC is still a long way from being an established category of PC hardware, designers have come up with interesting takes on small devices with most of the capabilities of a full-sized notebook PC.

Still, A conference session on UMPCs today underscored two primary data points: Even just a year later, UMPCs don't look much like Microsoft thought they would, and Microsoft is still very actively trying to steer the development of the UMPC.

The UMPC hasn't taken the direction that Microsoft thought it would back in the Origami time frame. At CES, for example, I saw the Seamless Internet S-Xgen, with a 4-inch touchscreen, and an unfortunate rubber keyboard. Fujitsu and Intel showed off concepts.

Since then there's been even more activity, and there are several new devices on display here. You can see photos of several of them in the WinHEC Image Gallery. Samsung has updated its Q1 to the Q1 Ultra by adding a split thumb keyboard, among other things. HTC's Shift does more than the photo reveals -- you can lay the keyboard flat, flip up the screen and touchtype on it. Fujitsu has contributed a UMPC that looks like a tiny tablet PC.

The first Origami devices had 7-inch screens, for example -- something Microsoft thought made sense because it was large enough to serve as a touchscreen, and it was a size already being produced in volume for other uses like DVD players and auto navigation systems, which made it less expensive. But there are several interesting devices with 5-inch screens, and the Origami reference description has been extended to cover "screens 7 inches and smaller."

The big win for Microsoft, of course, would be to make Windows Vista the dominant operating system for UMPCs. It's not an unreasonable goal. Vista's premium editions -- Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate -- include support for touchscreens, ink (drawing on the screen), and handwriting recognition. All these are common features of UMPCs.

The hardware is simply adorable, and, as WinHEC has proved, Microsoft has continued to work on Origami. It wasn't Microsoft that got Origami wrong a year ago, it was us in the computer press. We thought Origami was a product. It wasn't. Origami was Microsoft's take on what devices smaller than notebook PCs and larger than cellphones might look like. It turns out they don't look much like Origami, but they do work well with Microsoft's OS. And that means this week was only the beginning. I'm going to be hearing a lot more about Origami after all.

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