Microsoft Origami

As a fan of the Tablet PC, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about Thursday’s launch of Microsoft Origami, the presumed paperback sized Windows computer.  There are a couple of big if’s to it, and so I wanted to examine them in today’s post.

1. Is the form factor a plus or a minus?
The paperback book form factor might be an overestimation.  It could be slightly smaller, and more square than the paperback I’m holding today on my train to NYC.   (whee, yes, I’m traveling again.  Didn’t I tell you I was empire building?)  That being said, it will be too big to be an MP3 player.  Those devices need be about a third the size of a paperback and much thinner, like the nano.  However the larger device means that it will outperform the Sony PSP and the iPod Video for users who want to watch movies.

2. Is the added value of a full operating system going to make a difference?
The Origami devices should be running Windows Tablet OS, which means a full slate of Windows applications.  I think this is a big plus in the marketplace.  If you look at the community receipt of the Sony PSP, the first thing people have done is hack the thing to death, trying to load their own applications.  Microsoft, ever since Steve Ballmer gave his embarassing ‘developers developers developers’ speech a few years ago, seems to understand this.  They are not likely to ever make the Sony mistake and release a crippled machine.

Furthermore, the Linux community is almost certain to benefit from this as well, as they will promptly turn around and load up various Linux distros on the device.  Ironically enough, they will be inferior on the device because they don’t contain the advantages of the handwriting research that’s in Tablet OS.  Although I’m a fan of the power of open source, this is one of those cases where the follow-through of commercialized research really wins the day.  The handwriting recognition in Windows Tablet OS really makes it the obvious choice for OS on such a device.  (This makes an interesting point, by the way, that the best thing for the Linux community is to see Microsoft succeed. Not something they would acknowledge)

3. Network connectivity, big deal?
Absolutely.  I believe that the device is too small to fit a CD/DVD drive onto.  Since we know it’s form factor is mostly screen, it’s going to have to play video.  Therefore it had better have all sorts of network options crammed into it.  Like many Dell laptops, models will probably be shippable with Bluetooth and 3G connectivity options available on the device itself, as opposed to requiring a PCMCIA slot.  Ultimately, I think the connectivity is crucial as Microsoft is likely to use the Origami announcement to draw attention to an iTunes competitor (or partnership with a competitor) that uses Microsoft DRM.

4. Is it going to play games?
Nope, if you look at (and believe) some of the leaked screenshots, there simply isn’t a set of controls on it that would satisfy a gamer.  Granted, the Xbox franchise is probably itching for something in this area, but as of today, these are considered seperate categories, Sony PSP notwithstanding.

5. Is it a phone?
The form factor really doesn’t lend itself to being a cellphone, just like it’s not really an MP3 player, so rule that out.  Hang onto to your Treo, your Blueberry, or your Audiovox SMT5600 (that’s how I rolll these days).

So if you rule out what it’s not, what have you got?

You’ve got a portable computer (like a laptop) that operates like a notebook, has great connectivity so it doesn’t really need to be docked and can be useful pretty much anywhere.  It’s got handwriting recognition so you can operate it without a keyboard.  If it is docked it can become your desktop PC.  It’s got a big enough hard drive that if you’re sitting still you can watch movies or listen to music.

I honestly think it’s a recognition that people who lug around laptops could be more efficient.  Sometimes, when they’re taking their laptop somewhere to take notes, they could write those notes instead of typing them.  And that they will trade off the the keyboard for the smaller form factor.

Of course the brilliance of Microsoft’s strategy is that they can get a bunch of other vendors to make them, creating a competitive ecology in the marketplace and giving consumers choice.

I am so going to buy one.  I’ll be experimenting with replacing my current Tablet PC, an HP (Compaq) TC1100 with it, now that my TC1100 is reaching the end of it’s lifespan.

Here are some useful links I used in researching the Origami and it’s place in the market while writing this article: