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Asustek Unveils Origami

There have been a lot of talks regarding the new project from Microsoft called Origami. Some said that the Origami is a rival for the iPod players from Apple Computer, some implied that the Origami is much more than just a player. At the CeBIT 2006 the world’s largest software maker officially revealed the details about the mysterious project, while Asustek Computer demonstrated what Origami actually is.

In Japanese the word “origami” means paper folding. The art of origami is to create different figures using paper. The origami can be very simple or very complex, depending on what the author of a particular masterpiece wanted to construct. So, when it comes to Microsoft, origami should mean flexibility, expandability, yet something light and exciting.

While the promises that the sneak previews brought were very forward-looking and impressive, the reality turned out to be far more prosaic. Microsoft called its initiative as ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC) and set some kind of guidelines for its partners who will make the “Origami” devices, such as Asustek Computer, Founder, Samsung Electronics, TabletKiosk and PaceBlade.

At the CeBIT 2006 show Asustek Computer introduced its Asus R2H, the company’s first UMPC featuring an Intel processor, core-logic and wireless controller. The device is pretty exciting, but too bulky to be an iPod rival. But Asus knows that and says that the product will be a “killer” for portable media players (PMPs) that can playback music and videos, because UMPC is basically a small form-factor tablet PC without keyboard, which may allow to use much more functions compared to the PMP, being not more expensive compared to them: typical PMPs cost starting from $500, whereas a UMPC price should begin with $600, or just a little more. Generally, Asustek’s R2H complies to the guidelines set by Microsoft Corp. and features built-in web-cam, Bluetooth, WLAN, etc.

According to current baseline physical specifications, Windows-based UMPC devices will weigh less than 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms), with a 7” screen size that offers the user a choice of text input methods. The touch-enhanced display can be used as an on-screen QWERTY keyboard (called dial keys) to navigate, or users can employ a stylus to input handwritten information. They can also input content with a traditional keyboard, linked either by USB port or wireless Bluetooth connectivity. UMPC devices will have a battery life of 2.5 hours or more, and feature 30-60GB hard drive for storage, with Intel Celeron M, Intel Pentium M or VIA C7-M processors. Some devices may include additional built-in features such as GPS, a webcam, fingerprint reader, digital TV tuners, and compact flash and SD card readers. UMPCs can be connected through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet networks. Some UMPCs will be able to connect via wide-area networking too. While the first generation of UMPCs will run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, future models will run on Windows Vista.

We had an opportunity to play with the Asustek’s R2H during the CeBIT show for a while and, unfortunately, we cannot say that we were impressed. The obvious problem is that the device is too bulky and heavy to hold it with one, and even two hands, for a long time. As a result, you will hardly be able to use it like a book in an airport, park or train station. You have to sit near a table, which means that the gadget essentially turns to a notebook. But you cannot write emails, for example, on an UMPC as easily, as you can on your laptop.

So, generally, the UMPC just fills the gap between personal digital assistants (PDAs), PMPs and tablet PCs or ultra-portable notebooks. The market for such devices is unlikely to be very broad, but we will probably have to wait and see whether the UMPC will really turn into success even in that market.

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