When the wraps were taken off of the Origami tablet PC back in March, it was widely believed that the device was the demonstration version of Microsoft’s "Haiku" ultra-mobile PC project. Indeed, the Origami (or UMPC, as it is called now) has many things in common with the Haiku prototype, which was originally displayed by Bill Gates at WinHEC 2005. Both are small tablet designs, feature a touch-screen interface, run a customized version of Windows, and sport Asian-inspired code names. Yet the Origami—small as it is—is a bit bulkier than the Haiku demonstration unit, and lacks a couple of features. This can easily be chalked up to the limitations imposed by packing all of that technology into a portable unit—many final designs end up very different from their prototypes.
It now appears that the UMPC is merely a fork, not the end result of the Haiku project. The real Haiku continues to exist on the drawing boards of Microsoft’s Ultra-Mobile PC group, and in the hands of Otto Berkes, general manager of that operation, who showed it off this week at the Via Technology Forum in Taipei.
As originally described by Gates last year, the Haiku should weigh about one pound or a bit more and possibly be as thin as a finger. Additionally, it would hold a full one-day battery charge, and include camera, phone, music player, and eBook reader, in addition to its computational capabilities. Berkes admits that technology has not yet caught up with the design, but believes that Haiku might make it to market "in a few years." That’s slightly less optimistic—but probably much more realistic—than Gates’ original prediction of 2007.
In all, the Haiku sounds like a groovy idea, and I have little doubt that given the pace of technological breakthroughs, we’ll see something like this on store shelves at some point in the future. Truth be told, however, it sounds less like a device and more like a very raw concept to me. It doesn’t take much to envision a tiny machine packed with technology and which does everything but slice bread. Similar to the rocket-powered flying car with submarine capability and heat ray that many of us daydreamed of around age 10 (or the Newton), the hard part is actually building the thing and making it work.
A device like Haiku represents the logical extension of portability and convergence that we’re seeing right now as mobile phones get more horsepower and laptops get smaller. Simple progress will certainly allow us to jam all of the aforementioned devices into one miniscule box, but with all those features, the company that produces the most usable design will probably be the most successful. That might actually be Microsoft, or it could be any other technology company with a good industrial design department.
Of course, there are two important questions that arise: first, will there actually be a market for something like the Haiku? With the UMPC really just starting to hit the market, it’s too early to tell whether the smaller-than-a-laptop-but-bigger-than-a-PDA concept really has legs. Second, assuming we see Haiku on the streets in a few years, what horribly lame name will Microsoft give it in place of "Haiku?"