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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Is Origami a Paper Tiger?

Microsoft's Origami certainly looks cool, but it also looks like it could be a bit of a paper tiger. It does fill a price/size gap between PDAs and laptops, but it's not immediately obvious to me that this was a gap begging to be filled. I actually wonder if this isn't just an attempt to relaunch the Tablet PC platform in a new form factor with an eye toward increasing the size and feature set as interest rekindles.

When MS first started talking about the Tablet PC at PDC 2001, this is the type of device they were predicting. Unfortunately, tablets got derailed by bad implementations and marketing that were beyond Microsoft's control.

Their first mistake was ever showing tablets that had the now-ubiquitous convertible spinning screen and keyboard. Tablets were originally conceived as a new platform, but the unimaginative laptop manufacturers seized on them as a mere laptop feature, and proceeded to produce small, underpowered, overpriced laptops with touch screens rather than capitalizing on the tablet's unique features and strengths. MS should never have even hinted at laptop-like tablets in the early presentations.

The other major mistake was that manufacturers didn't do enough to get tablets into the hands of users. Everyone I went to PDC with in 2001 came back raving about tablets, but almost none of the people we described the concept to got it. Without fail, though, everyone I know who eventually got to try one hands-on said, "Wow, this is really cool!" (followed shortly by: "I wish I could afford one.") Unfortunately, it was early 2005 before I ever saw one in a store where shoppers could try them, and even then it wasn't obviously labeled as a Tablet PC, nor was there any real indication what that meant.

It appears that MS is determined not to repeat the first mistake this time. At the very least, it should be interesting to see what new mistakes they can come up with.

I find two Origami-related ideas intriguing. The first is mobile workstations, where a monitor and bluetooth keyboard/mouse would await a user, who would sit down, plug in the monitor, and start working just as if it were a desktop, then unplug and leave the room while still working. A good example would be doctors entering and leaving exam rooms.

The second intriguing idea is using an Origami device not as a wireless remote, as some have suggested, but as a media center receiving station, from which you could watch movies served from a Media Center PC.

Regardless, I'm really excited about computers breaking out of their desktop prison.

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