this will fold fast

The cocoon called Origami contained only a UMPC. Microsoft tried some hyping. They have to learn allot before they are able to launch products like Apple: This one folded. During those three weeks between Scoble’s plug of some hollow flash teaser and the actual release at Cebit lots of people saw an Origami concept video at the digital-kitchen website. The ill fated hipster assemblage sat prominently for one year next to a similar piece about the “SPOT Watch”. It should be in the interest of the company in Redmond not to mention this device in the context of Origami. It is not only the wireless component that the digital dud from 2003 shares with the latest greatest: In both cases Microsoft tries to innovate. Actually the leap for the SPOT device seemed even further: Microsoft started it’s own content distribution network based on FM for it. Big deal, specially since it tanked.

Is the UMPC doomed? Is there really an uncanny valley between cellphone and laptop? Will the bones of the UMPC get bleached next to the one of the PDA in the unforgiving sun of tech history?

Microsoft, Intel, Samsung and a couple of mid sized electronic makers are behind the UMPC. 100 Million UMPC devices till 2008 is the number that they floated. A 50 billlion US market. That is nice. Would be nice. The Microsoft Origami team is made up of eleven people. Not including Mr. Scoble.

Microsoft tried to push the tablet PC. And it did not work as hoped. Outside of the corporate Cool Aid sprinklers it is hard to find a person using such a device. The UMPC is featuring the same operating system: Windows XP in it’s tablet Version.
That is great, since there is so much software for it. That is not so great since there is so much malware for it. Those 100 Million networked UMPC’s could make lots of evil guys in Russia happy. An army of mobile nodes in your bot net, what could you ask for more?

The bigger problem is, is that XP is an ok desktop operating system and interface. Not great, not terrible. The tablet edition I don’t know anything about. Now the poor thing has to serve in yet another iteration on the UMPC. Which is where there is a problem: Usability. In the marketing videos people interact magically with the thing: They barely look at the thing and it jumps into action. Does exactly what they want it do it. Which would be great for a desktop system, but it is critical for a mobile device: All these ‘wouldn’t it be great’ scenarios that these clips dream up only work along our busy lives if they can be used effortless. I never saw anybody use a XP install effortless. Not having a keyboard and using a touch screen with 800×480 does not make things easier. To say the least. Things need to move very very smooth in this field of dreamed up application. And that’s where the UMPC falls into the void. It does not deliver on the promises that it makes. The core technologies are interesting: A touch screen, 2 pounds, Wifi and bluetooth. That oughta work. Some of them even have cameras and microphones and smart cart readers.
It’s not the hardware that’s broken. It’s the idea that you want to deal with Windows XP while you are standing on an intersection. Yes, that is a scary thought. XP is not compatible with real life. Period.

It is true that there is a gap between Laptop and Cellphone / ipod. The form factor will make for a very sucessful and nice media player, if managing media is as easy as it can be. Don’t think that XP is particularly great at that. Media Center is made for that. Is it good? I have no idea.

Vista? It will run, so they say. They have to. Would be funny to launch this cat right away into a dead end. The minimal specs for vista are pretty far away from what these little guys have to offer. We will see. Maybe there will be a 7th edition for UMPCs.

The average UMPC might do rather well under Linux. Imagine Samsung hiring a decent designer (and one for the hardware while they are at it, please!!) and a couple of geeks that boil down a nice distro that auto updates etc, etc. Then they would be up to something. OK, Mr. Scoble would not hype them anymore, but apart from that that side of the road is only pretty: Media center features under an UI that is made for the device.

People have high standards these days: Something does interact less than google does with search for instance and they walk away. UMPCs are priced between 500-1000. You expect it to be useful for something if you spend that kind of money on it. The hardware is certainly capable. The problem is to make it all work smooth enough to make it worth while. Running XP you can use the biggest software library there is. Just that you have limited resolution and battery life compared to a laptop at home. And on the road you need to figure out how to get EVDO or similar to work. And you need to cary it around. I used to develop software for the Newton. The thing was interesting, but in the end just way to heavy.

So, final word: two thumbs down

Not gonna work. Come back here in a year and see if I was wrong.
Try that with the rest of my blog ;-)

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