The UMPC (aka Microsoft Origami Project)

Last week we saw the light of a whole new PC category accounced by Intel and Microsoft, the Ultra Mobile Personal Computer. It is not a laptop, not a desktop, not a PDA, not a phone - it fits somewhere in there. It is bigger than a Palm, much smaller than a laptop, but it can run Windows XP (and Vista and probably Linux too) and therefore it has much potential.

The features have unlimited possibilities like normal PCs. Since the UMPC is an open architecture we can expect a lot to come in the future. For example, Alienware’s UMPCs would obviously be optimized for gaming and HP’s UMPCs would address the corporate types. The idea is not new, of course, and there were similar devices in the past and almost all of them were flops. The difference now is that Intel and Microsoft have designed a proper platform for everyone to work on, instead of each and every single manufacturer blindly experimenting on its own.

UMPCs’ sweetspot is that these can be easily morphed into appliances with appliance-ish applications. One problem with the desktops and laptops was that no matter what it ran, our minds kept saying that it was a “computer” (as in a PC) and not the projected appliance. For example, a laptop with a built in GPS running a navigation system with Google Maps and all would look very techy on the screen and give much more benifits than a normal GPS. But the user mindset towards the application would be “my LAPTOP with its GPS card trying to pretend to be a GPS and using Google’s stuff and all…” and that mindset actually affects productivity.

A UMPC tailored for specific applications can take up the form of real appliances in our minds, thanks to the aesthetics. It would affect the usability and would let the user focus on the task, completely eliminating the “getting the laptop to first run the application and then making that application do what I want” mindset. Actually it is Microsoft’s fault. Crashes, errors, loosing work, virus problems, people taking over your computer and all sorts of silly problems have become synonymous with personal computers. But luckily people do not think that way towards household appliances, phones and mp3 players. For now, serious possibilities for the UMPC include military, scientific, medical and educational applications.

Finally, the most important thing, which could be the last thing one could think of, is how much this would help expand the reach of personal computing. After about a year or so manufacturers are expected to ship low cost versions with lots of battery life and lots of computing power (with dual core processors) and the UMPC becomes the ideal solution for many of the computing needs in developing countries (schools, hospitals, research workers). It is not everyday you see something that really addresses the digital divide.

Posted March 10th, 2006 in category hardware.