Origami Smart Display

origamiThe London book fair, just finished. At it, there was no sign of an e-book reader from Microsoft – which is odd, because all the stuff Microsoft has been teasing us about with Origami looks exactly the sort of thing that the Book Fair would have got excited about.

Unless, of course, it’s the long-awaited portable XBox? Good question. What is Origami, then?

Origami is another “Smart Display” – but one which imitates the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. You probably missed the Smart Display, anyway; and the 770 was only really revealed last week, at a Linux show, but both are weird devices.

Smart Display: it was a flat display. But instead of being stuck on your desk, it was portable. You pulled the screen out of the stand, and took it downstairs; it had WiFi inside it, and as soon as it noticed it was mobile, it looked for the host computer.

It was back in late 2003 that Microsoft canned Smart display, and at the time I remember writing: “The problem with it was pretty simple. If you got the small one, it was actually smaller than most Tablet PCs – and no cheaper. If you got the big one, it was really too heavy and clumsy to carry around.” And also, if you took it away from the home WiFi, it died. It was ONLY worth playing with indoors, while the WiFi was working. It had zero function out of range.

Origami is smaller still. But it works out in the open. An ideal device for a portable electronic book reader? We’ll find out tomorrow if the hardware is up to it, and one key question will be “can you read it in sunlight?” – but the real reason to be sceptical is “What will be available to read on it?”

That’s where Microsoft loses out. Sony’s LibriĆ© may be disappointing, but it will (I promise!) have ten times the battery life of Origami, be readable in bright sun, and easier to read generally. And even if none of that was true, it would still win, because Sony has done an iPod on it, and signed up all the book publishers.

Microsoft can’t do that, because it isn’t making Origami. It has designed it; people like Samsung will actually make it.

So Origami isn’t an e-book reader. It’s not a pocket PC either, and it’s not a phone. It’s a light-weight Smart Display, with a “go anywhere” wireless. Who wants it?

Clue from PopCap Games. Bejeweled 2, Zuma, Bookworm. Is this, finally, the answer to the Playstation Portable by Microsoft?