Throwback Thursday: Ultra-Mobile PC and the Origami Experience

Throwback Thursday: Ultra-Mobile PC

With its Tablet PC initiative faltering in the mid-2000s, Microsoft set out to reinvigorate the segment with a new offering aimed at a new generation of smaller personal computers. Dubbed Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) and code-named Origami, this unique design still reverberates strongly today in various phones and tablets.

I was immediately reminded of UMPC when Brad previewed his exclusive news about Microsoft’s upcoming Word Flow keyboard for iOS sporting a one-handed mode. So I dug through my extensive archives and supplied the old UMPC shot you see in that post.Here is the full view:


And here’s a bit more info.

In a September 2007 briefing, Microsoft told me that its work on UMPC and the Origami experience—a sort of software layer —dated back to a Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows XP that targeted small Windows-based PCs that had 7-inch or smaller screens and weighed less than 3 pounds. The first of these “ultra-mobile PCs” was the OQO Model 1, though that device came about before Microsoft formalized the category.

OQO Model 1
Pre-Origami: OQO Model 1

“Looking at it, we asked whether PC technology was at a point where it could be brought down in size and made more mobile and fill the gap between phones and traditional laptops,” I was told. “Is there a market for these devices?”

Today, there is a market for these devices, which are now called mini-tablets. But Microsoft, as is so often the case, blazed the trail that others later capitalized on. Today, they’re trying to make up ground with Windows 10, which features a unique tablet mode for pure tablets of whatever size, and for hybrid PCs that can switch into a tablet form factor.

That keyboard as it appeared on the Vista desktop.
That keyboard as it appeared on the Vista desktop.

But even back then Microsoft realized that the traditional Windows desktop was less than ideal for touch-based devices, so the Touch Pack and, later, Origami, came into being. Origami debuted with Windows Vista, and provided finger-based navigation, app launching, and touch-specific user experiences for media, web browsing, and more.

The Origami Experience

In many ways, it was just like Media Center, which was also a shell of sorts that sat on top of Windows. (In that case, optimized for remote control, not touch.)


Anyway. That curved, split keyboard was just one of the many unique features of Origami. And when Brad showed me what the Microsoft Word Flow keyboard would look like on iOS, I dug into the archives and came up with the shots you see here. So as you can tell, that work dates back almost a decade. (Some UMPCs actually came with hardware keyboards, including the unique split hardware keyboard on the Samsung unit I still have somewhere. That’s the device at the top of the post)

As is so often the case with personal technology, what’s old is new again. And today’s innovation often has roots in the past.


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