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Monday, March 13, 2006

The Japanese Art of Paper Folding


At WinHEC last year, Bill Gates stood up and proclaimed that everyone would eventually be carrying around a small book-sized personal computer. The model he displayed (although a fake at the time) was about the same size as a paperback book, and only about 1cm thick. This was called the ‘Haiku’.

For the past few months, there has been the ‘Origami’ whisper campaign over the internet, with various people making claims as to what would or would not appear as the new form factor for PCs.

Last week, at CeBIT, most of these speculative questions were answered. The ‘Origami’ project and the UMPC (ultra mobile personal computer) project were in fact the same thing. At the time of my writing this, four companies have already unveiled their own UMPC sized machines which will appear in the market very soon.

I’ve been following all of this for months now. I can understand why the announcement was given a mixed reception. Many people cited why they thought there was this gap in the form factor market – people don't want a device this size - they like PDAs/mobile phones for their size, portability and battery life, but for full functionality, they would rather carry a larger laptop with them. I can’t help but think they’ve missed the point.

When I started my present post as Education Support Officer for ICT, John McPhee arranged for me to have a Toshiba Portege 3500 12” tablet PC – he was completely sold on the concept of the tablet PC. After a few months, it turned out that this particular machine just did not have the power/capacity that I was looking for in a computer, so this machine got recycled to a school and I got a conventional PC laptop. This was a great shame, as I really liked the tablet PC concept, but it had a number of problems – 1. It was expensive. 2. As a machine to be carried around, it was quite big, and reasonably heavy. 3. For any graphics/DV work, it was too low a spec.

In my work I carry around a PDA. I love the PDA for its handwriting recognition, its small size and its battery life. It is really limited though. It is too small a screen to work effectively with email and the web, and it is too small a device to run full applications.

In education, I can see huge potential for the UMPC format. This is potentially every jotter and every textbook you’ll ever need. We need to start looking into how we can fund this.

The retail price of the UMPCs is expected to be upwards of £300. On a 3 year refresh programme, that would be around £100 per year per pupil.

Sure, there are questions about battery life and about the size of the device. The manufacturers will solve both of these problems, I am in no doubt. If you are in any doubt, just think about this – compare the size and battery life of the first laptop you ever saw to what is available now. The first laptop I had weighed 4kg and the battery lasted 90 minutes. The laptop I am typing this on weighs just over 1kg and the battery lasts for 7 hours. Still not convinced? Compare the size of the original iPod to the iPod Nano. Huge multinational corporations can make tiny devices when they put their minds (or should that be money) to it.

There are also questions about the power of the UMPC machine. Again, I think they have missed the point. The vast majority of things we do on a computer use little of its power. Communicating, accessing resources, playing resources, making personal notes that we can then share use little processing power. If we need a computer with more power because we are creating a complex digital resource, then we go and use a more powerful machine. But for the vast majority of us using technology, that is only a small percentage of the time.

I think this has been one of the most exciting developments in ICT. If you want to know a bit more, check out the link below.

I’d love to hear what anyone thinks.



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