Microsoft has spent the last several weeks hyping its so-called "Project Origami." As is the company's wont, it has used a teaser campaign centered on a cryptic Web site, www.origamiproject.com, which used a combination of informal language and highfalutin design to hint that, yes, something big--and apparently mobile--was on the horizon.
Gamers' interest in Project Origami was piqued by a conveniently leaked video, which showed an excitable youth playing Halo on what looked like a Microsoft handheld. Since the video showed the device as supporting a graphically intense, full 3D version of Bungie's best-selling shooter, it raised the prospect that the software giant would soon be competing with Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS in the portable market.
Surprisingly, Microsoft actually admitted the leaked video was legit. However, it also admitted it was a year-old concept video and that all the functionality on display was for demonstration purposes only. That was especially true for the Halo footage, which a source close to the company claimed was merely included because it was a Microsoft-owned property.
Well today, Microsoft confirmed widespread reports that the Origami Project was indeed an "Ultra-Mobile PC" (UMPC), not a portable version of the Xbox, as some had thought. Touting it as "a new category of mobile devices for consumers and businesses alike," the Washington-based software colossus unveiled the first UMPC models at the Cebit technology expo in Hannover, Germany.
Initially, three hardware partners--Asus, Founder, and Samsung--will manufacture UMPCs. The general form factor will weigh in at around two pounds and will have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality. Each will come with an internal hard drive of between 30GB and 60GB and will sport a 7-inch touch-sensitive WGA screen. According to GameSpot sister site CNET News.com, the only price point announced was for Samsung's first-quarter UMPC, which will have a 900MHz Intel Celeron processor and will retail for around $1,200. However, another News.com report hinted that other UMPCs would retail for around $800.
As for gaming, Microsoft's official UMPC site does tout the UMPC's media capabilities. It says the devices can "synchronize with your primary PC and take your music, photos, and TV shows anywhere you go." It also hints that Microsoft is planning some sort of premium download service by saying that consumers can "buy music and movies and download them wirelessly." Indeed, one of the partners on the UMPC site is Movielink, the pay-per-view movie download site cofounded by Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., and, ironically, Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Microsoft also makes much of the fact that UMPCs offer "a new way to play" games. "Enjoy PC and Internet games in new ways with touch, stylus, or hardware controls," boasts the UMPC site. However, the only game the site displays appears to be one of the puzzle games embedded into Windows XP, which UMPCs run the tablet PC variant of. No mention is made of a graphics processing unit or what kind of games the first batch of UMPCs can handle.
Inquires sent to Microsoft about the various UMPCs' gaming capabilities were unanswered as of press time. But given that budget-priced, GPU-less Windows XP laptops from several years ago can run less graphically demanding games such as Civilization III, it is well within the realm of possibility that even basic UMPCs can as well.