Microsoft Corp yesterday unveiled its not-so-secret handheld computing project, called Origami, by announcing two forthcoming machines that will run a full version of Windows XP.
Launched at the CeBit show in Germany yesterday, Microsoft said its Origami project answers chairman Bill Gates’ call in 2005 for a new category of PCs that are cheaper, lighter and more functional than existing handhelds.
Bill Mitchell, VP of Microsoft’s Windows mobile platforms division, said yesterday that the Origami has spawned a class of handhelds, called ultramobile PCs.
We believe that [ultramobiles] will eventually become as indispensable and ubiquitous as the mobile phone today, Mitchell said in an interview on the company’s web site. The Origami project is really our first step toward achieving a big vision.
Fundamentally, ultramobiles are fully loaded yet shrunken laptops with wireless capabilities and touch-screen interfaces.
Clearly, Microsoft hopes the ultramobiles will help spur sales of the mobile version of its Windows operating system, where it has lagged behind other mobile software makers such as Symbian Ltd on smart phones.
But it’s far from certain that Microsoft’s revamped tablet computer initiative will succeed in denting the crowded market for handheld devices, particularly against popular e-mail devices such as the BlackBerry from Research in Motion Ltd.
Computer makers Samsung of Korea and Founder of Taiwan will launch Intel-powered ultramobiles developed with Microsoft in the second quarter, while Asus of Taiwan will ship its version shortly thereafter, Microsoft said.
At CeBit, Samsung showed a working prototype of its machine, called Q1, which was about 1 inch thick and measured 9 inches by 5 inches, or more than twice the size of most PDAs.
The Q1 resembles a large PDA in that it works with a metal stylus to input handwriting and click on-screen buttons. It has built-in WiFi for internet access and Bluetooth to connect to mobile phones, keyboards and other devices.
Essentially, Microsoft’s input with Origami was developing hardware reference designs and adding new features to its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 operating system. One notable new piece of software is its Touch Pack program that organizes applications into categories and uses large buttons and icons for easy access. The Touch Pack also has a thumb-based on-screen keyboard.
UMPC will differ from other small Windows XP-based PCs such as the OQO and the Fujitsu LifeBook P1500D, which target enterprise users, Mitchell said. Ultramobiles will be smaller, lighter and more portable, he said.
More Origami announcements will take place around the much-delayed release of Microsoft’s newest version of Windows, called Vista, Mitchell said. While initial ultra-mobiles will run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, future models will run on Windows Vista, he said.
Microsoft is working with several hardware makers and designs will vary by vendor. However, all will weigh less than 2 pounds and have a 7-inch screen size with a choice of text input methods, Mitchell said.
Some models will have a touch-based QWERTY keyboard, while others will use a stylus. Ultramobiles also will be able to input content with a traditional keyboard, linked either by USB port or wireless Bluetooth connectivity.
The battery life of ultramobiles will be at least two and a half hours. They will have up to 60GB hard drives for storage and either Intel Celeron M, Intel Pentium M or VIA C7-M processors.
The forthcoming machines will cost between $599 and $999. Microsoft suggested that $500 machines were possible if manufacturers carefully selected components.
Microsoft said it hopes to announce ISV software designed for ultra-mobiles in the coming months.