The gadget "street" has been buzzing for a while about one word: Origami. That's the code name for Microsoft's project to create a handheld device to rival all others, including Apple's iPod. At the CeBIT trade show in Germany, Microsoft today revealed what all the fuss is about. Origami is a term that describes any "Ultra-Mobile PC" (UMPC) running the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. So what's a UMPC? Essentially, it's a cross between a portable media player and a tablet PC, with an emphasis on the "media player" functions. It's less a digital office and more a place to watch your videos. But its abilities are sure to expand when the new Windows Vista operating system arrives later this year.
Three UMPCs made their debut at CeBIT: Samsung's Q1 (shown) and two others from Asus and Founder (who?). Specs vary a bit, but they all appear to sport 7-inch screens (3 inches larger than the video-specific iPod's will be, if rumor is to be believed) and include both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless tech. There won't be a physical keyboard, but you should be able to call up a virtual one on a UMPC's touchscreen. No word on when they'll be available in the U.S., but Reuters reports the Q1 is coming to Korea in April (ironically, Q2). Microsoft expects prices to range from $600 to $1,000.
Taking a step back from the hype, the UMPC is a bit of an odd duck. Although the whole idea of "video to go" is ramping up a bit, neither portable media players nor tablet PCs are really flying off store shelves (except for the iPod, and that doesn't count because its video capabilities are secondary). And now we're supposed to be excited about something that combines them into one device? That costs twice as much as the iPod? And just where do we get videos for these gizmos anyway? The brilliance of the iPod was its super-simple interface and convenient pairing with the online iTunes store, but this whole UMPC-Origami thing looks like it's all about Windows, with no master plan to make it easy for users to get content. Hey, did I just describe Microsoft?