HANOVER, Germany – After months of cryptic Web marketing and word-of-mouth hype over Microsoft Corp.'s Project Origami, the company finally showed off the product: an ultracompact computer running Windows XP with a touchscreen and wireless connectivity.
It's everything a full computer or laptop is, minus the keyboard. It has a 7-inch touch-sensitive screen that responds to a stylus or the tap of a finger.
Two models from different manufacturers are expected to hit stores shelves by spring, and Microsoft says they'll be about an inch thick and weigh less than 2½ pounds — about the size of a large paperback book.
It will run on a full version of Windows XP, the same operating system used on larger tablet PCs, and newly developed software called Windows Touch Pack will handle touch-screen functions. Future editions will support Windows Vista, a version of Microsoft's flagship operating system that's due out in the second half of this year.
"It really opens up new possibilities for PC use," Bill Mitchell, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Platforms Division, said Wednesday.
The device will be officially unveiled Thursday at CeBIT, the annual technology trade show in Hanover.
It won't be called Origami. Instead, the company is marketing it as a category it's calling the ultramobile PC, said Mika Krammer, a marketing director for Microsoft's Windows mobile unit.
Though Microsoft is not manufacturing the hardware, it took a guiding role from the start.
"We've done more than just provide the software. We've built the reference designs to sort of get the category started," he said. "We had the first prototypes about nine months ago and started working with partners early on."
One of those partners is Intel Corp., which makes the Celeron M microprocessor that runs the device. Three companies have built working models — Samsung, Asus and the Chinese manufacturer Founder.
The Samsung and Asus devices are expected to be in stores by April, and the Founder device in June, Krammer said.
"A lot of the early engagement we have had has been with nontraditional PC vendors, although there is a lot of interest from traditional PC vendors as well," Mitchell said. "It ideally brings the best of what a Windows PC is and marries it to what the best of a very capable consumer electronic device is."
That, said David Bradshaw, a principal analyst with London-based Ovum, is key.
"I really would hope that it would be something that works," he said, adding that he had not seen one of the models. "Something that is wirelessly connected. Hopefully it will have a wide range of wireless options so that you would be able to use Wi-Fi when available or a [wireless cell phone data] carrier's network if you can afford to pay through the nose."
Krammer said the device is expected to retail for between $600 and $1,000.
Origami, Mitchell said, would sport Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless access. At CeBIT, he said demonstrators were using their models by connecting their cell phones to it via Bluetooth.
The device's screen is wide, bright and easy to see, even in low light. Mitchell showed a music video on one model and a film on the other. It doesn't have its own keyboard, but since the units are designed with USB 2.0 ports, one could be plugged in as needed.
For users who don't want to jot down notes with the stylus, the Origami has a built-in program called Dial Keys that splits a standard QWERTY keyboard into pie shapes on the lower corners of the screen so that input can typed or thumbed in.
The battery power averages about 2.5 to three hours, and it will have a hard drive with capacity up to 60 gigabytes.
Mitchell said the device is aimed at consumers who want to have the full power of a PC while on the go but don't want to lug around a heavy laptop or desktop PC.
"We think that for most people, this is more of a replacement for the classic consumer electronic devices that they're buying with disposable income," he said.
While it's not compact like an iPod, it does play music, store and display photos like a digital picture frame, and show films and TV shows. For someone sitting on a plane, some models have a stand in back to prop up the device for easier viewing.
Bradshaw said if the screen's size appeals to consumers, it could be an impetus for wireless carriers to offer more video-on-demand.
"It may be the dream device for all these mobile operators that actually want people to watch video over their networks," he said.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst in Jupiter Research's New York office, said he thinks the device has potential.
"The whole Origami concept may very well change what devices people are going to carry with them," Gartenberg said. "It's not a pocketable device, but it's certainly small enough to be kept close at hand, and the fact that it runs Windows means that it can do a variety of tasks, from productivity to games to media consumption."