Thursday, March 16, 2006

Switched On: Origami is a paper tiger for now

Ross Rubin at NPD Group writes his regular "Switched On" column at Engadget and takes apart the Microsoft UMPC. Rubin is in fine form as he shreds the Origami Project with his snarky and witty commentary. He starts off by stating:

Here we go again. In its unending capitalistic quest, Microsoft is determined to figure out how to sell people their nth computer. Today, its ideal consumer's computing inventory looks something like this -- a couple of desktops around the home, a notebook for those mobile jaunts, a Media Center PC for controlling the television experience serving up Windows Media files to an Xbox 360 or lesser Media Center Extenders, and at least a Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone device.
But, he's only just getting started. He writes that "UMPC also continues Microsoft's inexplicable obsession to foist some kind of tablet-based product into consumers' hands even after the stunted growth of Pocket PC, the slow penetration of the highly touted Tablet PC (Microsoft's most hyped hardware platform ever), and the abysmal disaster of Smart Displays."

He thinks "Microsoft is applying its flagship operating system in an optimized form factor to take the place of many dedicated products that could range from portable video players to GPS systems. But just as Media Center has had challenges inching out less expensive and simpler products in the living room, the UMPC will need to fold itself into some tight places in order to win customer acceptance as a media playback and communications device."

He then comments that:
Integrated high-speed wide-area wireless connections could tip the scales in favor of these neoNewtons, but such connectivity isn't cheap, and so the question remains, “for whom?" UMPC is at least a year ahead of its time. According to traditional Japanese rules of origami, one is supposed to fold paper, but not cut it. However, price cuts will be necessary if the UMPC is to appeal to, say, desktop users who needs only occasional portability or the desktop replacement notebook users looking to lighten their load. Subtract from that customer base those more interested in dedicated devices such as iPods. PSPs and GPS devices, or a $150 portable DVD player to distract the rear-seat rugrats.
Rubin concludes:
Previous ultraportables have started north of $1,500. Microsoft's hardware partners will need to get ultramobile PCs going for a third of that price point to exceed the slow PDA and ultraportable categories that these jacks-of-all-trades lie between.