Last spring the tech blogosphere was buzzing about the impending release of a new Microsoft product code-named Origami. Like most products with code-names, details on the Origami were sketchy at first. Some speculated that it would be an iPod killer, while others thought it would be a more general purpose mobile entertainment device. The buzz was fueled by the appearance of mysterious video prior to the actual product announcement. The whole thing had a certain orchestrated quality about it.
Origami Day came and went and all we got out of it was a new acronym. Turns out the Origami is a UMPC (that’s short for Ultra Mobile PC). Essentially the Origami is a Microsoft reference specification that third party OEM’s can use to produce portable PC devices. UMPC’s are smaller than a notebook computer, but larger than a Pocket PC. And according to the Microsoft site, UMPC’s can do EVERYTHING.
Some people mistakenly assume that the Origami disappeared into oblivion shortly after it was announced. If you’re one of those people I have a surprise for you. The Origami actually exists, and you buy one now – provided you can find a retailer who actually carries them. Of course these devices aren’t called Origamis, because that was just the code-name. Instead, each manufacture has a different name for their unique implementation of the Origami. The Samsung Q1 seems to be one of the more readily available models.
While the Origami may still live on, it hasn’t been anything that anyone would consider a success. Reviews of UMPC devices have focused on the product’s extremely short battery life, mediocre performance, and expensive price. Apparently consumers aren’t willing to shell out between $1,000 and $1,700 for a device that’s too big for your pocket and not as full featured as a notebook PC.
Meanwhile, the Origami team continues to work on improving the device and building a community around the small user base. Last October the team sponsored a Where In The World Is Your UMPC? contest. Entrants were encouraged to send postcards from their home town in order to demonstrate just how far and wide the UMPC concept is spreading. The contest was announced on October 20th and by November 15th the team still hadn’t received a single entry. In a followup comment one of the team leaders seems to be blaming Microsoft’s internal mail handling system. Maybe they should have asked entrants to send an email message instead.
Ultimately Origami is a classic example of how a viral buzz can work against a product release. Expectations were too high and the final product was puzzling and didn’t fulfill any specific consumer demand. By the time the systems were actually released the hype had died down and there was practically zero consumer awareness. I’ve actually considered the possibility that the viral Origami campaign was a warm-up for the Zune campaign that followed later in the summer.
Lately we’ve been hearing something about Vistagami. No, that’s not an Origami with a vasectomy, it’s an Origami ready version of the upcoming Windows Vista. If that doesn’t sell more Origamis then I don’t know what will. Oh, except maybe a 12 hour battery life and a $500 price drop.