Ultramobile PC: Wheres Its Niche?

Opinion: The new category of devices-'Origami' as Microsoft calls it-needs to stand out in price and functionality.

One day after the news leaked out of San Francisco about Microsofts ultramobile PC project, "Origami" was the main focus of discussion at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany. With Microsoft, Intel and Samsung all shuttling their execs in to extol the portable, youd think there would be a clear idea of exactly how these systems are going to change the world. There isnt.

My briefing on Origami started off with a pre-press conference briefing with Brad Graff, Intels director of marketing for the ultramobile PC, fresh off the plane after an overnight flight from the United States.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here for a podcast of Eric Lundquists interview with Brad Graff about the ultramobile PC.

First thing, dont call it "Origami" around Intel. That term is for Microsoft. So what is it? "Its a new category of device—its called the ultramobile PC. It is going to enable a new kind of usage model between a notebook and a cell phone," said Graff.

He went on further to describe it as a new category of product of which one main benefit is that you can access "the real Internet." The real Internet being the same browser experience you have with your desktop or laptop rather than a reduced browser running on a cell phone.


At the Intel press conference, Christian Morales, vice president and general manager of the sales and marketing group of Intel Europe, Middle East and Africa (in my opinion easily winning the longest job title award of the show), didnt start talking about the UMPC—great, another acronym—until about midway through the press conference.

During the conference—which included a pitch for Intels ViiV multimedia platform as well as one for Intels newfound love for low power consumption supplanting its former faster-speed-at-any-power philosophy of the last 10 years—Morales described the UMPC as a new category between laptops and handhelds.

/zimages/5/28571.gifIntels forthcoming chips will use less power but offer more performance, thanks to a new microarchitecture. Click here to read more.

Here are some first impressions.

  • The category. I am always skeptical of new categories. With handhelds getting bigger and more capable and laptops getting smaller and able to run for longer periods, Im not sure there is that much room for a new category. Tablet PCs were a new category that may find new life eventually but have been disappointing to date. The Itanium was a new category. Nuff said there. All admitted that the UMPCs shown at CeBIT are a first generation, and meanwhile Samsung was showing phones with 8 gigs of memory. The UMPC category will require lots of money (which Microsoft and Intel both have) and lots of innovation, which has been in short supply at both behemoths of late.
  • The suppliers. At the press conference, there were three suppliers announced: Samsung, Founder and Asus. OK, we all know Samsung. Founder Electronics is a big OEM based in China. Asus is also an OEM known mostly for shipping millions of motherboards.

These are all good companies, Im sure, but where is Dell? HP? Toshiba? While Intel execs said more deals will be forthcoming over the next couple of quarters, a new market segment is not going to get liftoff until major companies start shipping systems under their label.

Next Page: The system and the buyer.