Is Microsoft's Origami Just a Paper Tiger?

After weeks of hype, cryptic advertisements and relentless speculation, Microsoft has pulled back the curtain to reveal its Origami project. And the payoff after all this buzz -- a hand-held computer.

Origami is actually a line of devices that kicks off a whole new category of gadgets called Ultra Mobile PCs, or UMPCs, that run Windows XP and any software that can work on Windows.

Though Microsoft spent a significant amount of effort promoting Origami, many in the gadget community are scratching their heads.

"Both in terms of form factor and functionality, it's somewhere between a laptop computer and a sort of portable media player -- or high-end PDA," said Ross Rubin, an analyst with NPD group. "I think that we may see some software developed for it that will establish it as a more unique option, but as of today, it's just a smaller, keyboard-less, notebook."

Do consumers really need an $800 device that's too big to fit in their pockets and does many of the things popular gadgets like smart phones, PDAs and MP3 players already do?

'They Blew It'

"I'm unimpressed thus far, but I suppose it can only get better," said John Biggs in an interview conducted via instant messenger. "The hype was definitely over the top and the results are sort of frustrating."

Biggs is the editor of Gizmodo.com, a popular gadget blog and was on hand at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany, as the UMPC made its debut.

According to Biggs, this was Microsoft's chance to "pull an Apple" and take advantage of the attention the shadowy project got both in the media and among technophiles.

"They blew it," he said. "Apple comes out with finished products that are compelling and exciting -- pulling an Apple is a good thing. In this case, [it] is an idea wrapped in a prototype."

No one from Microsoft was immediately available for comment.

Maybe Next Year

Biggs said the headline here is "Not Ready Yet" or "Don't Believe the Hype."

Rubin, too, questioned why Microsoft would unveil a product it had hyped so much, especially one he said is so obviously not finished.

"Originally, when Microsoft talked about this concept at WinHEC [Windows Hardware Engineering Conference], they talked about it as a Windows Vista device that will cost as little as $500," Rubin said. "I'm not sure why they decided to ship early -- I guess because they could."

Both Biggs and Rubin agree that with some time, the device may prove to be more useful to the average consumer, but for now, there's little the Origami can do that devices already on store shelves cannot. And the functions that make it stand out -- its ability to run any Windows program, for example -- also raise questions about its usefulness, they say.

"I think as a consumer product, unless some compelling applications appear, people just don't need access to that many Windows applications on the go in a form that can't fit in your pocket," Rubin said.

"What would they use it for?"

No one from Microsoft was immediately available to answer this question.

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