Ultra mobile is infra dig

As the story unfolds, Origami looks less a work of art than Bob in a box

Word reaches us from other, more favoured journalists that some within Microsoft consider ZDNet UK less than well disposed towards the company. This is an unfortunate misconception: we're delighted to report the good alongside the bad. It's just that while Microsoft claims to be a peacock of innovation, its products are often best consumed with cranberry sauce.

Take the much-hyped Origami project. With the best will in the world, it's impossible to think of a single task it does better than anything else. A galaxy of specialist gadgets — iPod, PSP, PDAs, BlackBerry — are more portable, last longer and do their assigned jobs with aplomb. Yet a general purpose device without a keyboard is always going to struggle against laptops, as the tablet market has demonstrated.

However, the list of things Origami does badly is much longer. Want to watch a movie? If even the manufacturers are saying that playback flattens the battery in less than two hours, it had better be one of Hollywood's shorter efforts. Browse the Web? You'd be better off with a lightweight laptop and a 3G card. And apart from various vertical sectors already well served, it is impossible to come up with a business use for the device.

There are many good reasons why nothing has ever done well with the Origami's form factor: it's almost a cliché to say that it's too big to be truly portable, too small to be productive, but it happens to be true. Coupled with the lack of innovation — apart from the two-thumb text input option, bought in from Fortune Fountain and shipping with the Fujitsu P1510 since last summer — it's hard to spot anything which will save it. The spectre of the Smart Display haunts it, as does the debacle of Microsoft Bob.

We'll have to wait and see whether things get better with time. New lower-power electronics and the voice recognition promised with Vista may make a difference, as might industrial design that isn't just plain ugly. For now, though, we are forced to conclude that while we are unlikely to become much more popular within Redmond, the Origami idea is even less likely to escape being the form factor flop of the decade.

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