December 21, 2006 6:08 PM PST

World of Origami still unfolding

Get ready for Origami take two. While Microsoft's minitablet effort may not be quite where the software maker had hoped, the project is ready for another cameo.

This spring, Microsoft attracted huge buzz for the Origami prior to its launch, but as details emerged and the products hit the market, they were roundly criticized as overpriced and underpowered.

Next month, at CES, Microsoft will be back with another round of the tiny computers. The latest tablets, code-named Vistagami because of their Windows Vista support, also will come in a wider range of looks, including some models with keyboards. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is expected to mention some of the new devices in his CES keynote as part of a broader discussion of the new types of computers that will be enabled with Vista, including new all-in-one PCs and other esoteric designs.

But it's unclear whether the new crop of devices will do that much to address the two biggest criticisms of the category: price and battery life.

"Certainly there is progress still to be made in the category," said Mika Krammer, a director in Microsoft's Windows product marketing unit.

Intel has a new platform, McCaslin, that aims to offer more energy-efficient chips, though it is not expected until around mid-year. Taiwanese chipmaker Via Technologies has also exerted a lot of effort in this area.

"Right now we have the lowest power and also the smallest form factor," said Richard Brown, Via's VP of corporate marketing. Brown noted that by switching to its chips, Samsung was able to achieve five hours of battery life on its Q1B tablet, double the life on the original, Intel-based Q1.

Even with some improvements over the course of 2006, the first Origami devices have had very limited appeal.

"They haven't done very well," said IDC analyst Richard Shim. Some of the ultramobile PCs even found their way onto a list of biggest tech disappointments of 2006.

Shim pointed out that the best-selling of the super-tiny devices isn't even an Origami. Sony's UX series devices cost even more than the minitablets and sports a built-in keyboard and built-in wireless. "They figured the audience they are going for," Shim said. "They built a device that audience wanted and they set it at a price point that audience wouldn't mind paying for."

Making Windows more manageable
The first devices are likely to start shipping when Vista goes on sale at the end of the month. For its part, Microsoft plans at CES to show off the updated Origami software it has for Vista. The "touch pack," as the software is known, aims to make Windows more manageable on a device that typically has a screen smaller than 7 inches. Among the additions for Vista is a customized version of the operating system's built-in Windows Photo Gallery that's easy to navigate through touch.

While much of the focus remains on touch-screen abilities, Microsoft is also making way for keyboards, noting that they have become increasingly popular even on smaller devices, such as cell phones.

"There's a lot of emphasis on slide-out keyboards for the newer (devices) you will see at launch," Krammer said.

Not all of the minitablet excitement will be focused on Vista, however.

See more CNET content tagged:
minitablet PC, Richard Shim, Microsoft Origami, Consumer Electronics Show, VIA Technologies Inc.

9 comments

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Oh, give it up already
Stick to monopoly-protected markets and "me too" just-good-
enough products, MS.
Posted by Mark Greene (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
silver lining
For years, games have pushed hardware to get more powerful. Now the OS will push for more powerful hardware design. The new Origami should fly once you get Vista off and a more efficient OS on.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
That's what they said
to Microsoft when they went to graphical OSs. And Spreadsheets. And Word Processors. And project management tools. And Servers. And game consoles. And mice. And PDAs. And phones. And mice. And games. And online services. And databases. And mail servers. And...
Nevertheless, Microsoft managed to stay putting out releases. Sometimes at the second release they succeeded. Sometimes at the third one. But in very few cases they failed definitely.
So I think your advise goes counter to what history suggests.
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Link Flag
Who's Microsoft's CEO??
In the article, its mentioned "MS CEO Bill Gates is expected to ..." . I thought Steve Ballmer was the CEO ;-)
Posted by techmaddy (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Story corrected
Thanks for pointing out the typo. Old typing habits die hard...
Posted by Jon Skillings (249 comments )
Link Flag
Grasping a straws.
Question:

What makes "stupigami" different then an ultra light laptop?

From what I understand, generation 2 of the device also comes
with a keyboard. To me it just seems Microsoft is grasping at
straws. The only thing seemingly different, is instead of XP
they'll be using VISTA.

Haven't they learned about the miniscule success of the tablet
PC. Whats Gates obsession with the tablet, anyway?

Seems to me, their initiatives are nothing but hot air. So what
else is new?
Posted by ServedUp (413 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where is The Demand?
If there were a demand for tablet PCs from consumers it would be fying of the shelves years ago. Origami, UMPC, MiniTablet or whatever new clever name they come up with does not change the fact it's still tablet PCs (V.2) which was out years ago. So how did the original Tablet do in the consumer market? Not good at all! So why to they continue to push these Origami/Tablet PCs at consumers? That does not make much sense to me, their target should be business (Hospitals etc). What's the point of using one of these only to see it run out of battery in just a few hours. Kind of kills the whole ultra mobil thing no? It Probably will continue to be more or the same price as a Laptop with a much bigger and brighter screen.
So where is the market? Vista support is not a selling point IMO seeing how much power is required just to run it.

So where is the Demand?
Posted by daveworld (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about running it on a 64 bit verson of windows 3.1?
If it came with a lighter faster operating system that required fewer resources to run I think there would be a market.

Why won't Microsoft put out a striped down ultra fast OS that uses very little memory and very little hard drive space?
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
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