IT has a place in the Origami fold

A few weeks ago, Microsoft launched a new class of devices called Ultra-Mobile PCs, also known as Origami. Most of the buzz around these UMPC devices concerns consumer usage, but there are reasons for business users to look at them as well.

Origami devices are small PCs optimized for mobility. They have screens of just seven inches or less and feature multiple input options: touch screen, pen and directional pad. Most units will also have a thumb-type mouse for pointing, and they will have dedicated buttons for common functions such as scrolling or changing device settings.

But these are no mere PDAs. They run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, making them full-fledged Windows computers.

Origami devices will be priced at between $US500 and $1000. Such prices will make a significant difference in terms of who can afford these machines, and those prices will only go down over time.

Origami may appeal to business users who think in terms of what usage they really need from the devices they carry. While they aren't pocket-size devices, Origami units by design are small enough to be kept close at hand, but as a PC-based platform, they're capable of a lot of functionality and offer a no-compromise solution for most applications.

You're not going to be able to pigeonhole the applicability of Origami for your users. Road warriors are probably going to need a full-size laptop with its big screen and standard keyboard; Origami just won't fill the bill for them. But for other users it might make sense to skip buying a high-end laptop and instead opt for a more powerful desktop as well as an Origami for managing e-mail and accessing Office documents on the road.

I'm not saying that the first UMPC devices coming to market are perfect. Battery life needs improvement. The devices could be smaller, and they could also use cheap 3G products for connectivity, as well as higher storage capacities. Those are things that can be worked out over time, as the devices' makers ride the technology curve toward greater utility.

But already, Origami devices are something that IT needs to take a closer look at. The key is to view this technology the way you would any new platform rather than to assess the value of a particular machine today.

Michael Gartenberg is a VP and research director at JupiterResearch

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