After months of cryptic Web marketing and word-of-mouth hype over Microsoft Corp's Project Origami, the firm finally showed off the product: an ultracompact computer running Windows XP with a touchscreen and wireless connectivity.
It's everything a full computer or laptop is, minus the keyboard. It has a 7-inch (17.8cm) touch-sensitive screen that responds to a stylus or the tap of a finger.
Two models from different manufacturers are expected to hit stores shelves by spring, and Microsoft says they'll be about 2.5cm thick and weigh less than 1.1kg -- about the size of a large paperback book.
It will run on a full version of Windows XP, the same operating system used on larger tablet PCs, and newly developed software called Windows Touch Pack will handle touch-screen functions. Future editions will support Windows Vista, a version of Microsoft's flagship operating system that's due out in the second half of this year.
"It really opens up new possibilities for PC use," Bill Mitchell, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Platforms Division, said on Wednesday.
The device was to be officially unveiled yesterday at CeBIT, the annual technology trade show in Hanover.
It won't be called Origami. Instead, the company is marketing it as a category it's calling the ultramobile PC, said Mika Krammer, a marketing director for Microsoft's Windows mobile unit.
Though Microsoft is not manufacturing the hardware, it took a guiding role from the start.
"We've done more than just provide the software. We've built the reference designs to sort of get the category started," he said. "We had the first prototypes about nine months ago and started working with partners early on."
One of those partners is Intel Corp, which makes the Celeron M microprocessor that runs the device. Three companies have built working models -- Samsung, Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc (
The Samsung and Asus devices are expected to be in stores by next month, and the Founder device in June, Krammer said.
"A lot of the early engagement we have had has been with nontraditional PC vendors, although there is a lot of interest from traditional PC vendors as well," Mitchell said.
"It ideally brings the best of what a Windows PC is and marries it to what the best of a very capable consumer electronic device is," he said.
That, said David Bradshaw, an analyst with London-based Ovum, is key.
"I really would hope that it would be something that works," he said, adding that he had not seen one of the models.
"Hopefully it will have a wide range of wireless options so that you would be able to use Wi-Fi when available or a [wirelesss] carrier's network if you can afford to pay through the nose," he said.
Krammer said that the device is expected to retail for between US$600 and US$1,000.
Origami, Mitchell said, sports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless access. At CeBIT, he said they were using their models by connecting their cellphones to it via BlueTooth.
The screen is wide, bright and easy to see, even in low light. Mitchell showed a music video on one model and a film on the other. It doesn't have its own keyboard, but since the units are designed with USB 2 ports, one could be plugged in as needed.
The battery power averages about 2.5 to three hours, and it will have up to a 60-gigabyte hard drive.