As predicted, Microsoft's mysterious Origami project is simply a hardware reference design for a new generation of small Tablet PC devices now called the Ultramobile PC. First revealed at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in 2004, these devices will run on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 and feature 7-inch touchscreen displays. Though touch screen support will be built into the Tablet PC software included with Windows Vista, XP had to be augmented with additional software for this feature to work.
Ultramobile PCs are true tablets, without a keyboard or pointing device. Instead, the onscreen cursor is controlled via a stylus, as with any Tablet PC device. Three relatively unknown companies in the PC realm, Asustek, Samsung, and The Founder Group, will release Origami-based devices between April and June this year.
Uncomfortably sized between a PDA and a more typical mobile PC, these Ultramobile PCs will be marketed as specialized ultra-mobile computing products that perform a number of tasks including personal information management, music playing, and even gaming. Like true PCs, they will include hard drives and wireless capabilities.
A Samsung representative said that the Ultramobile PC would take off in the market where other Tablet PCs did not because they offer, for the first time, a feature set and price structure that is impossible to duplicate on full-sized mobile PCs. Origami PCs will cost $599 to $999, about mid-way between a typical PDA and a typical mobile PC.
Microsoft is bullish about the devices' prospects. "We believe that Ultramobile PCs will eventually become as indispensable and ubiquitous as the mobile phone today," said Microsoft vice president Bill Mitchell. "The Origami project is really our first step toward achieving a big vision." It may be useful, however, to compare Microsoft's comments about these devices to comments made about the original Tablet PC, which still hasn't taken the market by storm over three years later. Also, it's notable that no major PC makers, such as Dell, HP, or Lenovo, are among the companies pursuing Ultramobile PCs. Perhaps they've been disappointed one time too many.
Another hurdle is battery life. While users are accustomed to multi-day battery life on PDAs, first generation Ultramobile PCs will struggle to achieve even four hours of battery life. Microsoft says it hopes to achieve "all day" battery life within a few years.