There has been no shortage of leaks, half-truths, and buzz around the Origami / UMPC announcements that Microsoft and Intel were promising at CeBIT in Germany. Now that the dust has settled we can finally discuss the facts around the UMPC. First of all, Origami is Microsoft’s internal code name for the Ultra-Mobile PC, or UMPC. All of the teasers from both Microsoft and Intel were pointing to the same thing: the UMPC. So what is the UMPC? The answer probably depends on the individual user. Is it a music and video player? Yes it is. Is it a Tablet PC? Yes it is. Is it a full Windows XP computer in a small, handy form. Yes again. If you break it down the UMPC is a handheld computer with a 7 inch screen that runs full Windows XP Tablet Edition. The screen is a touch screen and to take advantage of that fact Microsoft has developed an interface enhancement for the UMPC, the Touch Pack. Besides looking nice the Touch Pack adds a launcher and other interface designs to make it simple to operate using the fingers. ZDNET posted a video that shows the OS manipulated by drawing simple letters on the screen with a finger, like V for video and P for pictures. It couldn’t get much simpler than that. To augment the Touch Pack Microsoft is utilizing DialKeys by Fortune Fountain which adds circular half keyboards in the two lower corners of the screen. You won’t be typing any novels with DialKeys but it looks extremely handy for typing in the odd URL on the fly or entering a new file name for a document.
Several different OEMs will be releasing UMPCs in the next few weeks, with a few more later in the year. Some of the OEMs will be using Intel processors (both Pentium M and Celerons) and others will be using the new Via C7 processor. I have seen the Via running on handheld devices and it runs circles around the Intel processors speed-wise. Big, honking circles. What is interesting to me is which OEMs are going to produce UMPCs. The first three devices we should see will come from Founder, Samsung, and Asus. I have seen photos of all three of these devices and while similar there are distinct hardware control differences. I must say all three of them look pretty nice to me, although beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder, and gadgets are no exception. A little later this summer we will see UMPCs from TabletKiosk and Paceblade. TabletKiosk are the company that sells Sahara Tablet PCs and touchscreen PCs and I can’t wait to see their offering. Their Sahara Tablets are some of the nicest slates out there and I expect good things from their UMPC.
Microsoft is expecting UMPCs to retail between $599 – $999 depending on the hardware options installed by the OEM. They will be available in retail outlets internationally which is good news for non-US enthusiasts. The hardware in the UMPC will vary slightly from OEM to OEM but all should have a 7 inch (or smaller) screen running at least 800×480, similar to the OQO and DualCor cPC. Higher resolutions will be achieved via hardware or video scaling up to 1024×600. Expect the initial battery life to rival that of laptops, 2.5 – 3 hours typical. Given the hardware components available for such a small device UMPCs should have hard drives from 30 – 60 GB, include WiFi and Bluetooth, and weigh less than 2 pounds. Some OEMs are expected to add integrated cameras and GPS units in addition to the basic features. This first generation of UMPCs will run the Windows XP OS the next wave of devices should run on Vista.
The UMPC is designed to provide a full and rich computing experience no matter where you go through the Tablet PC operating system and the UI enhancements. Couple that with the various connectivity options and hardware control components and you have what can be called a true handheld computer. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these puppies. Here are a couple of closeup photos of the Samsung UMPC: