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Clues point to March 9 launch for Microsoft / Intel mobile PC platform

By - Source: Tom's Hardware | B 0 comment
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Redmond (WA) - Today marks the beginning of "Week 2" for the promotional Web site at OrigamiProject.com, which Microsoft is using to promote its thus-far-unannounced mobile PC platform. As many predicted, however, the site itself only tries to set the mood and whet consumers’ appetites for a final launch of the Origami mobile PC platform on 9 March - which happens to be, just coincidentally, the start date for this year’s main CeBIT conference in Hanover.

The message seen today on Microsoft’s OrigamiProject.com Web site.

While the Web site relies on cleverly arranged montages of publicly available images of everyday scenes, mixed with virtual cave drawings, apparently to awaken customers’ latent desires for "being from nothingness," or practical products from out of the ether, TG Daily has obtained information indicating a timetable for the release of ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) products from at least a handful of major manufacturers, some as soon as next week. Intel introduced engineers to the concept of its UMPC platform during last fall’s IDF. Its spring IDF begins next Tuesday in San Francisco, with the last day of that conference also coinciding with Day 1 of CeBIT, making a rollout of multiple UMPC devices not only logical but probable, along with a confirmation that Origami refers to Microsoft’s software and functional implementation of Intel’s UMPC.

As we reported last month, Samsung, Asus, and Founder are likely to be the first companies to ship UMPC products during the first quarter of this year ; and this morning, TG Daily received further indication that these companies are likely to make premiere announcements next week. TG Daily also learned that LG Electronics, Acer, and Averatech are gearing up to release UMPC devices for the second half of this year, perhaps in September or October to coincide with the likely release of Microsoft Windows Vista. This information, the likelihood of which we reported last month, was confirmed to us this morning.

If Samsung, Asus, and Founder are indeed ready to make releases this quarter, then evidently, Intel’s UMPC platform will not be bound to Windows Vista. Whether early adopters will spring for the first editions, whose screens are likely to look more like Windows Tablet PC systems today, or wait for the "Aero" look-and-feel of Vista in the fall, will be an indication of the degree to which customers embrace the UMPC’s infrastructure and basic feature set. 

"One of the problems any manufacturer has working with Microsoft’s platforms, including Windows, and the mobile platforms based on CE," remarked Michael Cherry, lead analyst with Directions on Microsoft, "is how do you differentiate your device from other devices built on the same platform. On the one hand, you want similar features like the Start button, so that people are immediately comfortable using the interface ; but on the other hand, you want to have something that gets consumers to pick your device over all of the other ’me-too’ devices in the category."

From what we know to date, the UMPC hardware platform will be based on an ultra-low-power version of Pentium M, with a 90 nm Dothan core, complemented by the 915GMS chipset. One of UMPC’s more interesting requirements appears to be the inclusion of a GPS, which could distinguish it among other handsets and connectivity devices. Conceivably, such a system could also ask, "Where do you want to go today ?"

But exactly what kind of connectivity UMPC will require or recommend, remains a mystery. From all the information we’ve seen thus far, it will support "wireless LAN." Typically, Intel has aligned itself with proponents of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), which is a next-generation GSM technology that promises around 3 Mbps download speeds. But such technology may fly in the face of EVDO, the high-speed data network currently championed by Verizon Wireless, and WiMAX, the more publicly known next-generation broadband standard being not only championed but implemented by Samsung. Both are companies that are likely to be involved in delivering and manufacturing, respectively, UMPC and Origami technology, which is perhaps why the definition of "wireless LAN" in this context has been left cloudy.

Cloudier still, perhaps, remains the broader question of, just what is this Origami thing anyway ? If it is not a cellular connectivity device or a PDA or an ultra-lite notebook, is there enough of a niche left in the handheld market space for Microsoft, Intel, and their presumably growing list of manufacturing and service partners, to make room for something else we have to lug around with us ? "I imagine that Microsoft is viewing this not as a competitor to Palm Treo or iPod or PSP," stated Matt Rosoff, another lead analyst and Cherry’s colleague at Directions on Microsoft. "Rather, they’re looking at the fast-growing consumer laptop market. Since consumers seem to favor notebooks over desktops, Microsoft is reasoning that there’s a niche for an even smaller but full-powered computer with a touch screen."

As Michael Cherry added, "Microsoft has two advantages here : First, they can spend a lot of money on the design of the device and the hardware, as they have so much money in reserve, so they should be able to buy a great design - if they let the designers do their job. Second, Microsoft can bundle software with the device, such as...Office - assuming the DOJ sees this as a device and not a Windows PC. But they need a unique spin and they need to show the device has some value."

Whether or not you consider the spin "unique," there indeed continues to be a little spinning cave drawing on the OrigamiProject site, attracting customers by the minute into its ever expanding nebulous web of entangled unknowing.

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