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Microsoft Goes 'Ultra Mobile'

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) took the wraps off its latest take on the tablet PC, codenamed "Origami," at the huge CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, today.

Origami had been widely rumored after a video advertising the device leaked onto the Net. (See Microsoft's Tablet Habit.) For its coming-out party, the paperback-sized device has been rechristened the "ultramobile PC," or UMPC for short. The design runs Windows XP, supports Bluetooth and WiFi, and weighs less than 2 pounds with its 7-inch screen.

Microsoft says that although the basic design will remain the same, vendors will create UMPC variants. Redmond is expecting that prices will range between $500 and $1,000, depending on capabilities.

Samsung Corp. is already showing its UMPC at CeBIT. Initial models are expected to hit the stores in April.

In its marketing materials, Microsoft is describing UMPCs as a whole new category of device. The design, however, undeniably has its roots in the Tablet PC products that the vendor has been pushing for the last few years, albeit lighter and cheaper than the pseudo-notebooks that came before it.

For one thing, UMPCs still use handwriting recognition on a touch-screen for data entry, rather than a keyboard. Microsoft claims to have enhanced the touch-screen responsiveness through new "Touch Pack" software on the device.

Enterprise users, as we have earlier reported, however, seem to be already moving towards smartphones and PDAs for really mobile applications.

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Charles Golvin agrees, with the proviso that the device could find a home in some vertical markets.

"It is in an uncertain place... neither fish nor fowl... PDA or laptop," he tells Unstrung.

Golvin thinks, however, that users such as warehouse managers or transportation workers could find an application for the device: "Maybe for someone for whom, a few years ago, a clipboard was the right utensil."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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