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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 15:18 GMT
Origami's mobile vision unfolds
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

Samsung Q1
The Ultra Mobile PC was the talk of Cebit in 2006
In 2006 much of the talk before the Cebit show started was about Microsoft's Origami project.

Via a website Microsoft dropped hints about this gadget which, when it emerged, got the much less sexy name of the Ultra Mobile PC.

With the UMPC, Microsoft tried to define a new category of portable gadget that ran a PC operating system but had a touch screen, all manner of wireless technologies, could handle audio, video and games and had a long battery life.

The idea was that the UMPC would be lighter and smaller than a laptop yet do much more than even the most sophisticated smartphone.

However, when the first UMPC products were unveiled at Cebit last year all fell far short of what Microsoft had hinted - battery life was too short and prices were too high.

"You know it was a great hype when the product was launched," said Joe Peter, one of the founders of the OnlyUMPC website. "When we got the first generation of products they were not convincing."

Step ahead

Few consumers and companies seem to have been convinced either and sales of the gadgets are thought to have been poor.

But the UMPC has not gone away and Cebit 2007 sees many more of them on sale and display.

Samsung Q1 ultra
Samsung's machine is being used by teachers and their pupils

"With many new manufacturers jumping in to the concept, things have got interesting," said Mr Peter.

At Cebit 2007 Samsung, Asus, Medion and Amtek are all showing off new hardware that go beyond the basic UMPC specifications that Microsoft has laid down.

These specifications demand that a device have a 20cm (7in) touchscreen that can work at a minimum resolution of 800x480 pixels.

They also must sport USB connectors and be able to run Microsoft's DialKeys software, a program that creates a thumb-operated virtual keyboard at the bottom of the screen.

To this spec-list, manufacturers showing off new UMPCs that are smaller and lighter have added such things as fingerprint recognition, higher resolution screens, built-in web cams, digital cameras and solid-state hard drives.

Many of the new versions also run one of the variants of Windows Vista - the latest version of the Windows operating system.

One of the most interesting of the bunch is the Samsung Q1 Ultra which uses a chipset that Intel has yet to formally announce.

Rumoured to be a low-powered variant of the dual-core chips found in desktop PCs, the processor helps improve how long a UMPC will run between battery charges.

It was always going to be application-driven
Dinesh Chand

Dinesh Chand, mobile product marketing manager for Samsung, said with a four-cell battery the gadget can run for 4 hours. With a six-cell battery, which makes the Q1 slightly fatter and heavier, it will run for seven hours.

Most important, said Mr Chand, was the fact that the gadget is now starting to live up to the initial promise.

"It sits in its own category because of what it can do," he said.

Teaching tool

Although the initial marketing of the UMPC was aimed at consumers many businesses were taking it up, he said, because it met many needs for which laptops were too cumbersome.

Mr Chand said Samsung was running trials of the gadget in schools to help tighten ties between pupils and teaching staff.

School children got on well with the device, he said, because they have no pre-conceptions about what it can and cannot do.

Some companies were also using it to manage stock in warehouses and shops.

For example, said Mr Chand, sportswear manufacturer Adidas was using it in retail stores in Paris to let customers view other shoes in the range they were interested in.

"It was always going to be application-driven," said Mr Chand. "Now, we're working with software firms and others to build the infrastructure and eco-system around it."

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