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Origami Project Team Blog : What’s the Hubbub?

Team Blog : What’s the Hubbub?
UPDATED! 11-Mar-2006@08:34. Originally posted 10-Mar-2006@06:33 CET.

LOL. Microsoft shows lots of humour, and it’s great that they’re so open about the intentional pouring of fuel on the bonfire of technology hype – it most certainly worked, and many managed to follow the bread-crumbs. I really like the bit about the, supposedly, overlap, with the Apple February 28th “fun” products announcement.

So what is Origami? Well it’s really not much more than a new form factor PC, and the real product name is UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC). Origami was the code name for the project, but Microsoft has decided to keep the name for the community site.

The UMPC UI is basically Windows XP TabletPC edition, but a new UI has been added that supports the touch screen, called the Touch Pack.

The most innovative application in the Touch Pack is called DialKeys. The concept is that two dials are shown on the screen, one on the left and one on the right, this creates an on-screen keyboard that can be operated by touching and moving the dials. I suppose this has to be seen in a practical setting, but it looks like this is a real innovation.

The cornerstone of the Touch Pack is the new program launcher application, it provides an interface to the media and the applications on the device, keeping the applications organised in groups like Connect, Communicate, View, Listen etc.

The strangest part of the Touch Pack is the new Media Player skin, I’m refusing to comment on that.

I find it odd that Microsoft has chosen to design something that, to me, looks like two very different UIs – XP and the Touch Pack Program Launcher. They just don’t seem to be that well integrated yet.

On top of that the UMPC has two major shortcomings – battery life and price. I really think that this project should have remained under wraps, until these problems had been solved.

Will I buy one? Well not just yet, this is not the ultimate convergence device.

Today I always carry:
1. Nokia 6100
2. Canon iXUS (Digital Elph) i5
3. Apple iPod nano or iPod shuffle

And 25% of the time:
4. Apple PowerBook G4 12″

The UMPC devices just can’t replace all, or any, of this, and I already get close to 3 hours of battery life on my PowerBook. UMPC devices aren’t meant to be convergence devices, they already exists, but what are they meant for then? I really can’t see a market for it – but I’m quite sure that extensive market research has been made. I liked the bit in the leaked promotional video, that showed a man using a standard keyboard, and then folded it, and the UMPC, into something that looked like a regular calendar.

Looking at the Intel UMPC site, it’s amazing how far the actual devices that was launched at CeBIT, and the concept device from the Intel site looks. The concept device sports a sleek UI and a very “poddy” design.

Of the “Usage models” that are presented on the Intel web-site, I found the, rather prejudiced, “Find and adapt” the most compelling. The UMPC is being used as a large screen GPS device/standard connected PC/oversized cell-phone, that you can use to find local special offers. I really think that these features could be delivered by a device with a much smaller form factor, my iPAQ has been able to do that for years, but this is a useful scenario.

In the “Play, listen, enjoy” section, the media player is called “Road tunes” – LOL – Intel obviously hired an ad agency that uses Macs. And what’s that…A Napster icon?

The real potential of a device with this form-factor could be eBooks. To me this is a likely nieche for this device, but wouldn’t a dedicated device be a better idea. It seems to me that the iPAQ used to be a big seller on it’s potential to act as a GPS navigation device, but now more and more are switching to dedicated devices. This could be a clue to what might happen.

One more thing…I think that Microsoft and Intel should have kept the name Origami – even though it doesn’t fold (yet). UMPC – how do you pronounce that? I suppose iPC was out of the question.

It will be interesting to see how the Origami unfolds – it’s clearly a 1st generation product, and Microsoft is welcoming community involvement – that’s great. Personally I think that Microsoft should redesign the UI, taking clues from Apples FrontRow application, instead of insisting on preserving the XP look and feel – the question remains – will these devices be capable of running Windows Vista, with it’s much sleeker UI.

I really do like the concept of a gesture controlled UI, and the touch screen, but I think that it really belongs on the desktop. And on the desktop I’d prefer a gesture controlled UI that I could work without having to touch the screen – hmm haven’t I just described EyeToy or the cool UI from the movie Minority Report.

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