Thursday, March 09, 2006

Origami - what is the hype all about

Here is the Origami launched by Microsoft I talked about earlier in my posts.

Microsoft launched a new category of mobile computers Thursday, following several weeks of teasers on its Origami Project website. "Ultra Mobile PC" (UMPC) mini-tablets feature 7-inch touch-screen displays, built-in hard drives, WiFi, and Bluetooth wireless, and run Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet Edition operating system.

The first generation UMPCs are expected to weigh around two pounds and offer two and a half hours of operation per battery charge, and will include 30-60 GB hard drives, according to Microsoft. They are expected to be based on Intel Pentium M, Intel Celeron M, and VIA C7-M processors.
Intel showcased several UMPC prototypes based on its chips earlier this week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, and Via is showcasing a new high-integration chipset and several UMPC prototypes using its chips, at CeBIT starting today.

Bill Mitchell, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Mobile Platforms Division, said he expects some UMPCs "to include additional built-in features such as GPS, a webcam, fingerprint reader, digital TV tuners, and CompactFlash and SD card readers." Additionally, "some UMPCs will be able to connect via wide-area networking."

Because they run a full Windows XP OS, UMPCs will be useful for a wide range of entertainment and computing applications. An on-screen QWERTY keyboard can be used for data entry and navigation, along with stylus-based handwriting input. The devices will also support external Bluetooth and USB keyboards as input devices.

Mitchell said he expects the devices to be popular for "mobile communications, entertainment, gaming, and new scenarios such as location-based services."

According to Mitchell, UMPCs will initially run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, along with a new software package called Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows XP. The Touch Pack "optimizes the touch screen user interface for UMPCs to simplify navigation and ease-of-use while on the go," Mitchell said.

The Touch Pack also includes a customizable Program Launcher that "organizes software programs into categories, and uses large buttons and icons to make it easy to find and open your favorite applications," according to Mitchell. Other Touch Pack features include a thumb-based on-screen keyboard, a "Brilliant Black" Windows Media Player skin, and Sudoku, a "highly entertaining touch and ink enabled game," Mitchell said.

Windows Vista will eventually replace Windows XP Tablet PC Edition as the UMPC operating system, Mitchell added.

"We anticipate pricing in the $599-999 price-range," Mitchell said. "Part of our objective in creating the original reference design for the UMPC category was to engineer a platform that's both very compact and, through careful component choice, possible to sell for $500 MSRP."

UMPCs are expected to begin shipping during 2006. Founder and Samsung plan to introduce Intel-based UMPCs in Q2, with Asus following shortly thereafter. PaceBlade and TabletKiosk also plan to introduce Via-based UMPCs in Q2, according to Mitchell.

Interestingly, several companies have already introduced or announced Windows XP-based handheld mini-tablet PCs over the past several years, including OQO and DualCor Technologies.

OQO, which has made "ultra personal computers" (UPCs) for several years, recently began shipping a UPC running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition that offers handwriting input. The 4.9 x 3.4 x 0.9-inch OQO model 01+ is based on a 1 GHz Transmeta x86 processor and is equipped with 512 MB of DRAM and a 30 GB built-in hard drive. The device boasts a 5-inch 800x480 pixel touchscreen LCD along with a slide-out QWERTY thumb keyboard, and it provides both 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless, as well as connections for USB 2.0, Firewire, and Ethernet (available via a docking cable).

For its part, start-up DualCor recently unveiled a 6.5 x 3.3 x 1.2-inch handheld that combines the functions of a Tablet PC with those of a Pocket PC Phone. Like OQO's devices, DualCor's cPC has a 5-inch 800x480 pixel touch-screen. Unlike the OQO handhelds, the unusual cPC runs two OSes -- on two processors, no less. Windows XP Tablet Edition runs on a 1.5GHz Via C7-M processor, equipped with 1GB of DDR 2 DRAM memory and a 40GB hard drive, while Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition runs on an unspecified XScale processor equipped with 128MB of DRAM and 1GB of Flash. The device also provides two USB 2.0 type A ports, one USB 2.0 type B port, and a CompactFlash Type II slot.

OQO's UPC currently goes for a whopping $2099, roughly double the expected pricing for the initial UMPCs. Additionally, both OQO's and DualCor's devices have smaller screens -- 5 inches, vs. 7 inches for the current generation UMPCs. DualCore, which offers the advantage of including Pocket PC Phone capabilities, has disclosed neither availability nor pricing of its device.

Nokia takes a lower-end tack with its 770 Internet Tablet, which runs a Linux-based software platform and sells for around $360. The device, which features a 4.3-inch 800 x 480 pixel touch-screen LCD, is substantially smaller than the current-generation UMPC prototypes. The 770 boasts built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, and an RS-MMC (reduced-size-MMC) memory card slot, and its bundled software suite is mostly oriented toward Web browsing and media playing. It includes a version of Opera's mobile browser, along with an email client, multimedia player, image viewer, sketching, note-taking, and games. VoIP capabilities will be added in an upcoming software update.

Compared to the first generation UMPC prototypes, the 770 offers smaller size, lighter weight, and, most likely, longer battery life. But these advantages come at a cost: constrained processor and memory resources -- a 200 MHz TI OMAP processor, 64 MB of SDRAM, and 128MB of flash (expandable via RS-MMC) -- and a limited set of available application software, in comparison with all that Windows XP Tablet Edition has to offer. On the other hand, by the time second generation UMPCs reach market sometime next year, the Nokia Internet Tablet can be expected to have evolved, both in terms of computing resources and available applications.

We reckon consumers, who already have desktop and laptop PCs running Windows XP or Vista, will be reticent to shell out $750 or more for a fairly large, rather heavy, high-powered device that requires handwriting or soft-keyboard taps as input -- and that might easily get dropped or lost.

Frankly, we think Nokia has the right idea but the wrong software. In our opinion, a Windows Mobile version of the 770 Internet Tablet -- but with more DRAM and flash, and an honest-to-goodness SDIO slot -- priced under $400, would be a real winner.

Not that we don't think the Windows XP-based UMPC concept has merit. It's just that from a Moore's Law perspective, the necessary economies of scale are probably several years off.

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Author : Smoke'N Ashes // 11:42 AM



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