Is Intel's UMPC really Origami incognito at IDF?

San Francisco (CA) - No, Origami has not yet been officially announced. But several sources in and around the Intel Developers' Forum here have hinted that various permutations of the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) prototype concept that have popped up here, would be "very similar" to the mysterious Origami device Microsoft will be unveiling on 9 March at the CeBIT tradeshow in Hanover, Germany.

One UMPC device we saw late yesterday, which consumes about half the footprint of a regular notebook, lacked any branding information, though it had been given the impromptu designation, "Coming Soon..." If it really is Origami that we saw, then this particular device may be somewhat underwhelming: For a first-generation system, it lacks many of the features we would expect from a product that is as mobile as Microsoft is describing it on

The device is basically a small tablet PC with 5" screen, an integrated digital camera with video recording capability and some buttons place on the left and right side of the screen. The right hand moves the cursor using a thumb-sized trackpoint; the left-hand controls include left and right mouse clicks and audio/video playback buttons. Wireless capability, for now, appears limited to WiFi; and that features Microsoft's promotional video indicated, such as GPS, and wireless broadband connectivity such as EVDO and HSDPA, have not made it into this particular device. We are guessing that the weight of the device is somewhere between one and two pounds.

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Perhaps the single worst-kept secret at IDF this week.

What is clearly missing is the "wow" factor. Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney mentioned during his keynote that his company was not yet ready to disclose any information about 3G data services, which indicates that Intel may have hit some silicon roadblocks or that contracts with Sierra Wireless, the designated provider for initial services, have not been signed.

Intel had a few more UMPC devices on display, dispersed like apple seeds throughout the show floor. The cases of these units are as rounded and slippery as a 1995 Toyota Celica, and may not represent design tastes of the mass market in 2006. As of now, UMPCs are clearly early adopter devices: Intel is positioning them as a means to make more portable, and presumably more convenient, the whole Internet experience. But this first generation is clunky, even for a prototype, and appears to have omitted the necessary feature set that would lend it broader market appeal.

Of course, what we saw (which, after all, ran only Windows XP and not Vista) could be a complete ruse; and tomorrow in Germany, Bill Gates could emerge on stage wearing a black mock turtleneck, and pulling from his sleeve a completely different device - one with the wireless connectivity features to match the high expectations the company has created in recent weeks.