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CeBIT 2006. Origami or should I say paper tiger from Microsoft?

Below you will read our conclusive material about CeBIT 2006. It is about ultra-mobile pc known as UMPC and Origami. After the hype went away its possible to take a clear look and analyze what the project is all about and was all the hype actually worth it?

On the whole the project has nothing revolutionary about itself, its not some sort of absolutely new product, platform or a concept. However companys marketing efforts deserve separate analysis, and I might even consider that the result of such action will be a place in high-tech marketing students books. Lets try to revise chronology of events:

  • December 9th, 2005. Microsoft registers domain name www.origamiproject.com under high security conditions works on the portal and its content begin.
  • February 2nd, 2006. Software giant slips first leak, vice-president of mobile platforms Bill Mitchell speaks of upcoming announcement of life-style PCs (ultraportable lifestyle PC). We were promised almost everything: fully-functional WinXP, built-in 3G module, portable size, off-line operation for up to 1 day, and all these goodies for the price of 500$. However the press did not react much to these statements, since there was no mystery and too much of concentration.
  • February 23rd, 2006. On this day a web-site dedicated to the project appears accidentally. Intrigue flash-movie promises new details on March 2nd, it is expected that the official announcement will be held on that very day. First publications where Origami proeject from Microsoft is mentioned appear. People carefully recall communicator announced by National Semiconductor Corporation five years ago which had the same name (in the end all agree to the point that it was just a coincidence). You should realize that in order to advertise the web-site you should send this link to couple of your friends, later on everything was evolving according to the laws of virus-marketing.
  • February 24th, 2006. A huge boost of publications on the web, only the slowest and outdated news sites were missing Origami publication on their pages. A lot of speculations and theories appeared at that time, its impossible to read the all. Although the main theories will be mentioned: Origami a new platform for Pocket PCs, alternative to current OS; Origami is a xbox portable; Origami is the answer to Apples iPod, another operational system based on Windows CE.
  • February 25th, 2006. A video clip appears on Microsofts North American advertising agency web-site, its 4 minute long and in the end we see Origami Microsoft sign. It becomes clear that Origami is a portable device that works on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The video clip will be removed shortly afterwards from Digital Kitchen web-site, but this does not affect its distribution on the web. By the beginning of March wave of Origami publications turns calm. Mystery is solved? There is no reason to write about Origami again? Youre wrong!
    Video clip Microsoft Origami (MPEG, 12.1mb)>>>
  • March 1st, 2006. See which move Microsoft is doing, the company is officially announcing that they are in fact working on project Origami, but that video that was leaked is more than 1 year old. Well, a year in hi-tech industry is a imposing term, a lot of things, perhaps everything could have been changed. On one side the project was officially confirmed, on the other the company let even more fog into small room which is called Origami. IT-community was in hysterics, new wave of publications stormed the web. A lot of portal were claming that this device will become hitman for Sony PSP and Apple iPod.
  • March 2nd, 2006. More information appears on the official web-site, however its not all. There is no precise information what this project is all about after all. A hint was added into HTML-code: Origami Project: the Mobile PC running Windows XP, although due to overall hysteria, very few people noticed this hint. You should be aware of the fact that most people who were following the whole story were expecting to see the official announcement on that day, a lot of journalists were planning publication of news/material about Origami especially on that day. In the end we got another reason to write numerous articles, news items about Origami which were provoked by false announcement date (March 2nd). It became clear that the official announcement will occur during opening day of CeBIT 2006.
  • March 5th, 2006. On this day there was an accidental leak of photo which was supposedly Origami, the fact that this was high-res photo should be noted as well. Mysterious Alexandria puzzled the community even more (see the photo), it seemed like a title for music and video online shop. The mystery was weather this device be manufactured under Microsofts brand or this platform will be used for other manufacturers. What was Alexandria all about and if this project really exist remains a mystery event today. This logically caused another wave of publications.
  • March 7th. Lack of coordination between Intel and Microsoft lead to the fact that two days before the official announcement of Origami, Intel demonstrated one of Origami devices within UMPC concept. The overall theme of publications on that day was as follows: what are the differences between Origami and UMPC?
  • March 8th, 9th (morning). CeBIT daily puzzled everyone completely, this issue had a photo on which you could see piece of Samsungs Q1 model which was claimed to be exclusive, the article contained description of all specifications of this project. However the article on the front cover basically evened Q1 and Origami (for those who did not want to get into details), the company promised announcement of projects real name instead of the codename. I highly doubt that there were any journalists who came to this years CeBIT and missed any information about Origami before CeBIT. The amount of publications about Origami after CeBIT is not hard to imagine. It doesnt matter if the project was criticized or admired, the thing is that everyone considered his duty to write about it.

Here is the culmination, who is the killer after all? What is Origami all about? The companies that were taking part in the project have different answer to one and the same question. A pretty unexpected turn in the storyline, isnt it?

  • Intels version: Origami is an upgrade to Windows XP Tablet edition, which has application manager, one game and virtual keyboard. Nothing else. All devices are built on our platform called UMPC. This type of statement could have been heard from girls at Intel booth.
  • Microsofts version published on the projects web-site. Shortly: This is code name for Microsoft UMPC project, made in part with manufacturers. The projects goal is creation of portable PC with touch-screen, that can be used when ordinary notebook or Tablet PC is not convenient, and you lack PPC functions. The concept of UMPC is not an initiative or project from Microsoft, the whole UMPC concept was announced by Intel long time ago.

So what in reality Origami is all about? It will become more clear if we go back to history once again. The idea of placing fully-functional Windows OS into size of pocket PC has been living in minds of developers for quite a while. Lets remember the announced but never to be released FlipStart Vulcan , released long time ago and available at retail sale models OQO and Sony U50/U70. Lets highlight that ANY of these devices is smaller than all Origami devices. Later on (about a year ago) Intel had the idea of portable PC realized in Ultra Mobile PC project. From the moment first attempts to port Windows XP into small sized device it became clear that the interface needs improvement, since it was lacking the comfort of Windows Mobile, as much as it was overcoming this OS in functional terms. OQO was missing chance to affect Microsoft, and so was Sony. But everything changed when an influential player entered the game (Intel), they were able to explain to their long-time partner that simple version of Windows XP as well as Tablet PC edition have to be improved. This is where Touch Pack upgrade came from.

This upgrade includes the following components:

  • Program Launcher. All programs are divided into groups;
  • Brilliant Black. Skin for Windows Media Player that allows easier navigation with thumbs;
  • DialKeys. New virtual keyboard that allows typing the text with two thumbs, it is divided into two parts and located in bottom-corners. The method is rather original, but it takes some time to get used to;
  • Touch Improvements. A set of settings that allow easier use of UMPC, at the moment its not yet clear whats hiding beneath this set;
  • Sudoku. A game.

All mentioned above forms the Touch Pack as it is, formally this is all what Origami is all about. All except for DialKeys, can be easily added/developed by OQO and Sony or any other manufacturer (I doubt that Touch Improvements set has something truly revolutionary and unique, otherwise it would have been mentioned on every corner). As for keyboard, DialKeys, this is the only development that changes ergonomics of the device completely Is not Microsofts idea, but the product of 3rd party company Fortune Fountain Ltd.

So the project of UMPC appeared more than one year ago. Microsoft had mediatory relation to it. It was up to Intel to finally force Microsoft to improve and adapt Windows XP to small screen, to opearation without keyboard or stylus, just with fingers. Microsoft liked the idea of doing practically nothing (DialKeys, Sudoku were bought, borrowed, the rest can be done by one programmer, or better to say designer in short term) and in the end getting a product that can be sold. It liked the idea so much, that a special project was dedicated for this purpose, a chance to test its own marketing initiatives (it cant be any worse, can it?), taking part of that art from Apple. Recall what hype each announcement of new iPod causes?

Indirect rate of hype can be made by Google queries. The phrase Microsoft Origami turns out into a list of 5 millions 600 thousand links. Unfortunately, information-bomb from Microsoft covered truly interesting announcements made at CeBIT 2006 32gb SSD-drive from Samsung (flash memory was used instead of hard drive), a unique laptop for managers, Fujitsu Siemens Q2010, with built-in UMTS module. According to Googles stats interest to these devices is approximately two times lower than Origami.

Basically simple launcher and skin for Windows Media, oh and a game Sudoku thats the reason of global madness (there is no better word to describe the events) within two weeks before CeBIT and few weeks after. Microsofts marketologists receive A+ and have the right to demand raise of their salaries, meanwhile the person who got the idea of www.origamiproject.com web-site can grant for promotion.

A meaning called paper release is often used in press, its when a product is announced at early stages of development, or the development process has not been even started yet. The company however is trying to solve its deep utilitarian problems increase attractiveness of the project in the eyes of investors, decrease sales of competitors, who already has similar project. One journalist made a great name for Origami Paper Tiger, which truly describes what its all about. Origami is an ancient art of creating different figures out of paper, in fact it is possible to create a tiger (a few interesting sites related to Origami can be found on the internet). Perhaps it was tigers destiny to go into annals of history.

Its not that bad after all

Lets look on the other side of the model, its not pure marketing, its also a project in which Microsoft, Intel and other manufacturers are taking part. It just happened that within one project a company has tried to acquire all contribution that belong to other company. I think its clear what were trying to tell you about. The positive aspect hype on the whole popularized UMPC concept. Earlier it was up to small companies, now when there is platform from Intel, interest of manufacturers, support of software additions (Touch Pack is just the first step, determination of intent), publics interest (a lot of unofficial web-sites, plenty of publications proofs).

Three Origami devise were announced at CeBIT: one by each Asus, Samsung, Founder. Overall thing that these devise have in common - OS Windows XP Tablet PC edition with Touch Pack, 7 touch screen, resolution 800x480 pixels, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, weight around 800 grams. All models were more or less similar in specs, Asus R2s highlight is built-in GPS receiver, and 1.3mpx camera. Q1 from Samsung has lots of accessories.

This is just the first generation of UMPC devices, Intels representatives promised that with the devices will shrink in size (at least to match the size of already existing models from OQO or Sony), meanwhile their functionality will grow. So far the devices are partly competing against the following types of products:

  • Tablet PC-devies w/o keyboard;
  • Web-panels based on Windows CE;
  • E-books;
  • GPS systems.

Once the products size will be decreased, as well as price and weight, the following competitors will appear:

  • Pocket PC;
  • Portable Media Players with video playback support.

Digital TV market is not yet formed, thats why we shall not write about it yet. Basically, if you look at the first group, Table PCs are not selling well enough; Web-panels demonstrated their short life term, they have practically left the market, devices for e-books reading were never popular or mass product. The size of the device does not allow to call it pocket one; the weight limits usage outside buildings (office or at home) or in transport (train, car). I doubt that somebody will actually take 1kg heavy device out of his pocket on the go and perform some operations. Most likely theres a desktop PC in office or at home, and Pocket PC will be enough for doing small actions. There is no mass market for this device in case it is used indoors, however there are die-hard followers (technology fans, web-panels had them too), there is narrow group of professionals who are in desperate need of Windows XP in motion, and Pocket PC is just not enough (for example, In medical facilities, when specific programs are missing versions for Pocket PC).

The potential of current (first) generation of UMPC devices is concentrated in automobile market segment. This is a fully-functional Windows XP inside your car, here the size and the weight no longer matter. The price of UMPC comparing to price of car is no longer a decisive point. The advantages are: navigation on big screen, video, music and digital TV (for example in Moscow DVB-T broadcasting exists for quite a while now), other goodies of fully-functional Windows XP OS. It depends on how the companies will make agreements with car manufacturers, will it be successful and quick? The fate of UMPC 1st gen success depends on that.

Now lets imagine that UMPC will actually decrease in size, the weight will be reduced as well, and Microsoft will finally make full adaptation of Windows (it seems that this will occur in the Windows Vista era) to conditions of small touch-screen, meanwhile the price will drop to reasonable 600-700$ mark. Then well see that UMPC will fully replace traditional Pocket PCs, the potential market will significantly broaden due to the fact that device will become truly mobile. UMPS will be sort of mobile system storage. Its obvious that these devices will feature mobile network modules more often. Will these become communicators based on Windows Vista? Time will tell.

The idea of UMPC has been already approved by early followers (OQO 01, Sony U70), the Origami /UMPC project or Microsoft/Intel give the start of the attempt to acquire mass consumer. So far its not clear will this idea turn out successful or no. At the moment the only potential of this device is car market, other segments require functional changes before entering, and it is not known how much time that will take.

P.S. I highly advice you to get acquainted with OQO video clip. Its hard to believe the fact that this video is more than two years old.

Vide of OQO (MOV, 7 mb)>>>

Anton Kotov (anton.kotov@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Alexandr "Lexx" Zavoloka (lexx@frag.su)

Published — 06 April 2006

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