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.
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.
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.
- The system. I only had a couple of minutes to fool around with the systems. They use a stylus, are supposed to have a battery life of 2 to 3 hours and might fit in the pocket of cargo pants designed to hold something big, say a parachute.
Right now the systems come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless and have two USB ports for keyboards, monitors, etc. They run Windows XP.
One of the systems on display at the Intel conference seemed to have given up the ghost, but the others were responding quickly to stylus requests. I think the 3-foot torture test drop off a table would have been fatal, but I dont know for sure. The boxes are PC OEM cool, which means nice in an industrial design sort of way, but not in the Apple league.
Longer battery life, proven ruggedness and lots of connectivity options for an always-on computer experience are going to be required. The pricing seems to be hovering in the $500 and up range, which seems high, as full-featured laptops are starting to skirt that range.
- The corporate buyer. So are the UMPCs a consumer product only? Not really, said Graff. He said the UMPC will work well as a companion device for the mobile knowledge worker and in vertical industries, where the touchpad input and smaller form factor are important.
The bet on the UMPC seems to come down to three areas: that the price can be brought down to be appealing as an alternative to laptops, that the software can provide the full computing and browser experience that will stay out of reach of phones and PDAs, and that communication can be upgraded to provide an always-on experience for that full browser experience.
This bet will still require a lot of technical, marketing and application development to pay off.