Sunday, March 12, 2006

Will Microsoft's 'Origami' ultramobile PCs run Apple's iTunes?

"Microsoft is promoting an all-new PC design, but will anyone really care? Formerly code-named Origami, the new design is for an ultramobile computer, or UMPC. The idea is to have a device with much of the same power and features of a notebook or tablet computer in about half the size," Troy Wolverton and Bill Snyder report for "The UMPC concept faces a number of obstacles to mass adoption -- and to having a meaningful impact on Microsoft's results -- analysts say. Price, market perception, the lack of major vendor support at launch and the actual physical design of the device all could work against the concept, analysts say."

Wolverton and Snyder report, "As sketched out by Microsoft, the typical UMPC device would have a seven-inch touch-sensitive screen, weigh less than two pounds, include a 30GB to 60GB hard drive and a built-in wireless networking antenna, and run on an Intel or Via mobile processor. Unlike PDAs running Microsoft software, the computer would run a full version of Microsoft Windows.

"When Microsoft CEO Bill Gates first started talking about a new class of portable PCs last year, his idea was to have devices on the market for $500 or less. But the first generation of Origami computers, which will go on the market beginning next month, are set to sell at significantly higher price points, from about $600 to $1,000," Wolverton and Snyder report. "[So far] multipurpose devices have done nothing to stop the outsized popularity of Apple's iPod, which is known first and foremost as a great music player."

"Another possible impediment to adoption of the UMPC is the lack of vendor support. So far, only five vendors have publicly committed to releasing devices based on the new design, of which the only household name is Samsung. Notably absent from the list are any of the major PC vendors, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and Sony. H-P's absence is particularly noteworthy, given that it was one of the first vendors of both Tablet PCs and PocketPCs... And some analysts say it could be a big hit -- if it's done right. Unfortunately, outside of Apple, the PC industry has a history of having good ideas undermined by their complexity, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the tech industry consulting firm Enderle Group. 'This platform could be next big thing, depending on how good a job it does,' he says. 'If it were coming from Apple, that would be a lot more certain.'"

We haven't seen an article about "Origami" that addresses this question: If Oragami UMPC's run a full version of Microsoft Windows (Samsung's device runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition), then wouldn't they be able to run Apple's iTunes for Windows? This was first brought to our attention by feedback from MacDailyNews reader "Frobots" in response to our "Origami" article on Tuesday. If Origami devices are indeed capable of running iTunes, then they would be iTunes Store-compatible, capable of playing FairPlay DRM-protected audio and video files. Microsoft will have run an end-around play that bypasses the need to license Apple's FairPlay DRM, the same DRM that Apple has so far declined to license to any company other than Motorola. Interestingly, it'd be Apple that would be providing the free application, iTunes, that would allow Microsoft's partners making Origami devices to break open Apple's iPod+iTunes symbiotic ecosystem. What if they get the Origami device prices down to or near iPod levels? What will Apple's response be to devices that can do such things along with email, web surfing, business applications, games and more?


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