Microsoft on Thursday unveiled its 'Origami' project, a paperback-book sized portable computer, which is a hybrid between a laptop PC and a host of mobile devices that the world's biggest software maker hopes will create an entirely new market.
Lighter than 0.98 kilograms with a seven-inch (17.78-centimetre) touch-screen, the new "ultra-mobile" PCs will use microprocessors from Intel and run a modified version of Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC edition.
Samsung Electronics and China's second largest PC-maker, the Founder Group, are expected to release the first three ultra-mobile PCs, which Microsoft had code-named 'Origami' in an elaborate marketing campaign.
Samsung's product goes on sale in April.
The new machines will connect wirelessly to the Internet and carry full-sized hard drives, but they are not intended to replace current PCs.
The Origami's interface appearance is similar to Windows XP with few features adopted from PDAs like the letter recognization function. It will also be less expensive than Windows Mobile 5, according to a Microsoft executive that was presenting to CDRinfo the new technology, but no prices would be mentionned.
Window's new operating system for PDA was showcased on a Samsung and a Founder tablet PC. The Founder device will only be sold in China. It will also be included into ASUS PDAs for the American and European markets.
The Origami Device that was showcased at CeBIT came with an Intel Celeron processor. A Microsoft executive revealed to one of our CDRinfo journalists that the operating system should be available in the U.S. in approximately one month. He was not aware of the shipping date for Europe.
Microsoft's track record in promoting an alternative PC has produced mixed results. The tablet PC has not yet gained broad appeal despite strong backing from founder Bill Gates.
No U.S. name brand PC makers have signed on to make the new devices, which will have battery life of about three hours, but Microsoft predicted a bright future for the devices.
"We believe that (ultra-mobile PCs) will eventually become as indispensable and ubiquitous as the mobile phone today," Microsoft vice president Bill Mitchell said in an interview on the company's Website.
"The Origami project is really our first step toward achieving a big vision."
Microsoft said it has already held discussions with a number of additional PC and consumer electronics companies to broaden the number of manufacturers.
The new PCs are expected to sell for between $599 to $999, but Microsoft said it is possible to sell one for $500 if the manufacturer selects components carefully.
Microsoft sparked a frenzy by creating a Web site to tout "Origami" with cryptic messages like "do you know me?" and "do you know what I can do?"
This fuelled industry speculation that "Origami" would challenge Apple 's iPod digital music player or Sony PlayStation Portable.
While the product does not compete directly with those popular devices, Microsoft aims to lure gadget fans with ultra-mobile PC models that include features such as global positioning systems, digital TV tuners or Web cameras.
"People expect an increasing amount of functionality when they are on the go," said Otto Berkes, general manager at Microsoft's Mobile Platforms Division.
The company acknowledged that battery life is one hurdle for the ultra-mobile PC. Microsoft said it aims to eventually have "all-day" battery life.
"This is the start of a category and there are a number of areas that will require additional investment -- both hardware and software -- to realize the full potential of the category," said Berkes.
Microsoft said future models will run on Windows Vista, the next-generation of its flagship operating system due out in the second-half of 2006.
Tablet PCs, which allows people to use a stylus or digital pen to jot down information instead of typing on a keyboard, have been largely geared toward business users since its introduction in 2002, but the new "ultra-mobile" PC category appears to move the tablet technology into the consumer realm.
This segment of the PC market is not altogether new. Japan's Fujitsu and San Francisco-based OQO already offer a small, portable tablet PC designed for business users.