By Craig Zammit and agencies

Hannover, GERMANY: After weeks of speculation, Microsoft has unveiled details of a new category of mini-laptop devices known as the UltraMobile PC (UMPC), which will run Windows XP and includes wireless connectivity and a touch screen feature.

Revealed at the annual CeBIT technology trade show, the new device incorporates Intel processors, bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless technology, SD card and CompactFlash memory slots, 60GB hard drive, music and movie playback as well as image viewing and two USB ports for a variety of peripheral devices.

Three companies: Samsung, Asus and Chinese manufacturer Founder, have produced working models of the device, with Samsung and Asus set to release their devices in April 2006 and Founder looking for a June release date.

The product release follows a call in 2005 from Microsoft cheif software architect, Bill Gates, for the computer industry to produce PCs which are cheaper, lighter and more functional.

Microsoft has spearheaded research for smaller, more mobile PCs for many years and initaited research into UMPCs some ten years ago. Combinig key developements from its industry partners and utilising its own research, Microsoft has helped develop the new category of consumer electronics.

"The Origami project is really our first step towards achieving a big vision. We believe that UMPCs will eventually become as indespensible and ubiquitous as mobile phones are today," said Microsoft mobile platforms division corporate vice president, Bill Mitchell.

"The creation and continued evolution of UMPCs will happen through a broad collaboration between Microsoft, Intel and a wide range of OEMs, ODMs, IHVs and ISVs. We are excited to have such an industry-wide commitment for the category," he said.

The UltraMobile PC is expected to retail for approximately between $A899 and $A1499, with two models to be unveiled on release. While Microsoft is not actually manufacturing the hardware for the new device it has been heavily involved in the developement process 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. We had the first prototypes about nine months ago and started working with partners early on,” Mitchell told associated press.

The device also features a new on-screen keyboard system, with the traditional Qwerty keyboard split into pie-shaped dials at the bottom corners of the screen. Called Dial Keys, the system will be utilised by those who do not wish to connect a traditional keyboard into the unit.

The UltraMobile PC has a battery life of about two and a half hours and will be perfect for those consumers who dislike lugging around a traditional laptop.
“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,” said Mitchell.

“The whole Origami concept may very well change what devices people are going to carry with them,” Michael Gartenburg of Jupiter Research revealed.
“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 it can do a variety of tasks, from productivity to games to media consumption.”