Microsoft has unveiled its “Origami Project,” a new category of handheld computer that could become the next must-have digital device for the home. It sells for under $1000

Amid the biggest hype since it launched the Xbox 360 in November the device that runs for only for about three hours on a single battery charge and is set to replace many high end control panels. Samsung is set to sell the first models next month in the USA for $599 to $1,000, depending on what features are included. It is expected in Australia by June 2006

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Origami Project was the code-name for a new category of PC that Microsoft and Intel have been developing for more than a year. They hope the devices will become small and cheap enough that most PC users will buy one to supplement their home and office machines, staying constantly connected via wireless networks. They also see as a product that will communicate with an Xbox or video or storage source.

The product could also result in CEDIA members selling the device as part of an integrated home automation solution due to its low cost. “This is the first generation of a long string of innovations we intend to bring to small form factors that run full Windows,” said Mika Krammer, director of Windows mobility marketing. “We are not trying to position this Ultra Mobile PC at this time to be all things to all people, so every man, woman and child should own one of these in the next three months.”

The Samsung has a 7-inch diameter screen, runs Windows XP Tablet Edition and weighs under 1 kilo. Some models will have global positioning systems and wide-area networking features. Storage capacity will range from 30 to 60 gigabytes. Samsung’s model comes with a program that can display TV broadcasts transmitted wirelessly if users have a Slingbox, or separate device.  Asus Computer is expected to sell a version soon in the Australian market.

Among the device’s software advances are touch-screen capabilities and a digital version of the Sudoku numbers puzzle.Future versions will be based on Windows Vista, the new Microsoft operating system coming later this year, and a new Intel chip set with all-day battery.

Some of the devices with XP will be able to upgrade to Vista. Analysts said the concept is intriguing but still early. If the devices cost $1,000, people may buy a laptop instead, so Microsoft, Intel and PC makers have to keep prices around $500, said Bob O’Donnell, vice president of client research at IDC.

“If in one device I can get the equivalent of a GPS and a Web terminal and e-mail machine and media playback device, it starts to become a little more interesting,” he said. There’s also a risk the first versions will be underwhelming, O’Donnell said. “The reason it’s gotten so much buzz and so much press is the vision is very appealing; there’s no question about that,” he said. “It’s a question of execution and delivering on that promise.”

The PC industry has tried with mixed success to develop handheld computers. It’s also facing new competitors, such as phone company Nokia’s 770 Internet tablet that went on sale in fall for under $400. Because people have different tastes, one device is unlikely to dominate, said Allen Nogee, an In-Stat/MDR analyst who carries a Nokia 770.

“That’s the thing we see with cellphones; people are expecting one model or form factor of cellphone to fit everyone,” he said. “It’s never going to happen.” Microsoft’s Krammer said there’s an opportunity for the PC industry to build different versions of the Ultra Mobile PC for certain types of users, such as travelers wanting a GPS version loaded with hotel, restaurant and mapping information. Installers

To start, the most likely buyer is a technology enthusiast. “Do we expect and hope that everyone’s sister and grandmother will own one?” Krammer said. “Not in the near term, but that is certainly an aspirational goal in the years to come.” Several OEMs are expected to release the first batch of Intel-based Origami devices in mid-2006.
At CeBit, Microsoft demonstrated Touch Pack for Windows XP on Samsung’s Q1 Ultra-Mobile PC to show the ease of navigation for mobile computing.

Microsoft has also developed special software for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 and several editions of Vista that incorporate the Tablet PC Windows software.

The Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows XP’s customisable Program launcher lets users organize programs into categories, and it provides larger buttons and icons to make it easier to find applications. It also includes a thumb-based, on-screen keyboard that’s enhanced for touch-text input, a “Brilliant Black for Windows Media Player skin” and a new touch- and ink-enabled game.

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