March 09, 2006
Microsoft Unfolds "Origami," Reveals On-The-Go PC
SEATTLE/HANOVER (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. on Thursday unveiled its 'Origami' project, a paperback-book sized portable computer, which is a hybrid between a laptop PC and a host of mobile devices that the world's biggest software maker hopes will create an entirely new market.
Lighter than two pounds (0.972 kilograms) with a seven-inch (17.78-centimetre) touch-screen, the new "ultra-mobile" PCs (UMPCs) use microprocessors from Intel Corp. <INTC.O> and run a modified version of Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC edition.
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. <005930.KS>, Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc. <2357.TW> and China's second largest PC-maker, the Founder Group, are expected to release the first three ultra-mobile PCs, which Microsoft had code-named 'Origami' in an elaborate marketing campaign.
South Korea's Samsung's product goes on sale in April.
"This is a single ultra-mobile computer that combines the functionality of many different products," David Steel, the vice president for marketing at Samsung's digital media group, said at the CeBIT technology trade show in Hanover, Germany.
Samsung positions the UMPC as a handheld organizer, an MP3 portable music player, a mobile television receiver, a games device and a notebook PC and believes it will be more successful than the full-sized tablet notebook PC with touch screen, launched four years ago.
"We really believe the difference is now the connectivity. the tablet PC had a certain form factor, but it did not really offer the mobility the new product can do. And along with mobility there is (now) connectivity," Steel said.
The new machines will connect wirelessly to the Internet and carry full-sized hard drives, but they are not intended to replace current PCs.
Microsoft's track record in promoting an alternative PC has produced mixed results. The tablet PC has not yet gained broad appeal despite strong backing from founder Bill Gates.
No U.S. name brand PC makers have signed on to make the new devices, which will have battery life of about three hours, but Microsoft predicted a bright future for the devices.
BEGINNING OF NEW PRODUCT RANGE
"We believe that (ultra-mobile PCs) will eventually become as indispensable and ubiquitous as the mobile phone today," Microsoft vice president Bill Mitchell said at CeBIT.
"The Origami project is really our first step toward achieving a big vision," he added.
Intel's European marketing chief Christian Morales said at CeBIT his company and Microsoft were creating a new "category."
Microsoft said it has already held discussions with a number of additional PC and consumer electronics companies to broaden the number of manufacturers.
The new PCs are expected to sell for between $599 to $999, but Microsoft said it is possible to sell one for $500 if the manufacturer selects components carefully.
Microsoft sparked a frenzy by creating a Web site to tout "Origami" with cryptic messages like "do you know me?" and "do you know what I can do?"
This fueled industry speculation that "Origami" would challenge Apple Computer Inc.'s <AAPL.O> iPod digital music player or Sony Corp. <6758.T> PlayStation Portable.
While the product does not compete directly with those popular devices, Microsoft aims to lure gadget fans with ultra-mobile PC models that include features such as global positioning systems for car navigation, digital TV tuners or Web cameras.
"People expect an increasing amount of functionality when they are on the go," said Otto Berkes, general manager at Microsoft's Mobile Platforms Division.
The company acknowledged that battery life is one hurdle for the ultra-mobile PC. Microsoft said it aims to eventually have "all-day" battery life.
"This is the start of a category and there are a number of areas that will require additional investment -- both hardware and software -- to realize the full potential of the category," said Berkes.
Microsoft said future models will run on Windows Vista, the next-generation of its flagship operating system due out in the second-half of 2006.
Tablet PCs, which allows people to use a stylus or digital pen to jot down information instead of typing on a keyboard, have been largely geared toward business users since its introduction in 2002, but the new "ultra-mobile" PC category appears to move the tablet technology into the consumer realm.
This segment of the PC market is not altogether new. Japan's Fujitsu Ltd. <6702.T> and San Francisco-based OQO Inc. already offer a small, portable tablet PC designed for business users.
By: Daisuke Wakabayashi and Lucas van Grinsven
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