A lot of buzz on the internet surrounding Origami, now called the ever so elegant UMPC (for Ultra-Mobile PC), seemed to be focused on placing bets on Microsoft's new kid on the block taking out the reigning champion, Apple's iPod. When Scoble tried to downplay the UMPC as "not an iPod killer" you could feel the disappointment from his readers. "Not an iPod killer," you heard them say. "Then what good is it?"
The UMPC is a not so small device that, in my opinion, has turned out to be more like the ugly offspring between a PDA and a Tablet PC than the beautiful Origami devices we've seen in the promo videos. Yet it runs the same version of Windows XP found on Tablet PCs (but with "touch pack") in a smaller form factor, opening up new possibilities for mobile computing. With built in WiFi and Bluetooth, the industry I've heard best suggested for adopting the UMPC was the medical industry. A UMPC could provide much more powerful applications than those found on a PDA and would be much less cumbersome than a Tablet PC for medical staff to carry around (Unfortunately nobody has addressed hospital regulations against WiFi and cell phone usage because WiFi frequencies can potentially interfere with medical equipment).
The hype surrounding the UMPC never reached hysterical proportions. Nobody suggested building cities around its technology, for instance. Perhaps viral hysteria never reached extreme levels because PC users are more price conscientious than Mac users - most PC users were waiting to hear what the UMPC was going to cost before getting excited. However, when the real deal was revealed last Thursday the disappointment in the PC community matched that of the Mac community after Apple announced spiffy new leather cases for iPods instead of a video iPod. The revealed target pricepoint of $600-$1000 matched the UMPC against larger screened laptops. The battery life at 2 and a half hours became a hard sell, and the first model wasn't very thrilling to look at while also rumored to actually cost $800-$1200.
At twice the cost and maybe three to four times the size of the current 30Gb video capable iPod, the UMPC was obviously in a class of its own, and I couldn't help but think that Microsoft had missed the target again. Considering that the UMPC would be capable of running iTunes there was a very strong possibility that a low cost UMPC could out perform Apple's own yet to be released video iPod (rumored to cost between $500-$600) running Apple's own software! But such a coup d'état was not to be.
Scuttlebutt about tech town says that the sweet red and white unit shown at Gizmodo and the front page of UMPC.com wouldn't be in production for another two years. That leaves the Samsung Q1 model as first off the block, a decidedly less stunning design with a larger form factor and an unknown price or release date. So much for viral marketing. All that buzz and excitement over a product not even ready for sale. If they're going to try to borrow pages from Apple's playbook they should consider having solid prices and release dates next time. When the UMPCs finally come to market Apple will have the new iteration of their iPod on the streets already. The buzz will have moved on and UMPCs could end up being a misfire if not priced competitively.
I realize Microsoft is only guiding the development of this new product class, but I am bemused at how unaggressive they have been compared to their foray into the gaming market with the Xbox. There are no devices being sold at a loss to conquer a market. Microsoft left that up to third party developers. What we were given was an odd viral campaign that petered out before the product announcement day, a device that could have outdone the iPod using Apple's own software if form factor and price were right but won't, and overly high expectations all around due to Microsoft's own viral campaign. Until we see otherwise, the UMPC has turned out to be a non event.