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Origami: Microsoft's 'OrPod' Alternative to the iPod?

Posted by iMark - 2006-02-27

Would you buy an OrPod?

Microsoft has registered a Web site for something called "The Origami Project. From the rather cryptic video clip there, you can't tell much about what Origami is or what it will do. Guesses about Origami's origins have been all over the map.

But what we're hearing now is that Origami might be little more than a new code name for an ultra-portable device that Microsoft demonstrated last year at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. (Since Microsoft is continually changing code names to keep company watchers guessing, such a move would not be unprecedented.)

The original "Haiku" device was described as an ultra-portable mini-Tablet when the first prototypes made their public debut. The systems, as described Microsoft Chairman     Bill Gates, would weigh about a pound, feature a battery that could hold a charge for a full day, and integrate a camera, a phone and a music device in a single form factor.

(Update: Based on the latest video stills from an ad agency doing work for Microsoft, it does, indeed, seem Origami is the ultra-portable Tablet.)

Microsoft is promising we'll hear more about Origami on March 2. The timing isn't coincidental, our sources say. Apple is slated to unveil new "fun" products on February 28 in Cupertino. Among the rumored introductions: A new iPod Boombox audio system.

Microsoft has made no bones about its iPod envy, nor about its lack of satisfaction with the kinds of Portable Media Center devices its partners have been producing. And no one from Redmond has denied reports that Microsoft has plans to get into the business of building its own family of iPod killers.

Microsoft has built some nice keyboards and some decent mice. But an MP3/video player — with a built-in phone and camera, to boot — is a whole other matter. Microsoft would need a team of crack product designers, a super-competitive price point and some kind of gimmick (emerald green earbuds from Big Green, anyone?) to give such a device any kind of a fighting chance.

Timing is also an issue. When Microsoft showed off the Haiku ultra-portables last year, the company was projecting a ship date of some time in 2007. And that was with the help of hardware partners. Would Microsoft be able to start rolling out OrPods this year? The longer the Redmondians wait, the less likely they will be to cut into Apple's steadily mounting market share.

But we're betting Microsoft won't classify Origami devices as MP/3 players. No "mere" iPod killers, these. Instead, we're wagering Microsoft will convince its chums in the market-research business to create a whole new category of all-in-one mobile communicators (better than Sidekicks; more comprehensive than Treos; able to leap even BlackBerries in a single bound!) which Microsoft's units will dominate from the outset.

What's your take? Is it time for Apple, Palm and RIM to get some fresh competition? And is Microsoft the right company to deliver an all-in-one souped-up device of this sort? Or are we way off-base in our educated guess that Origami will morph into a family of OrPods?

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