The web is abuzz today with news of Microsoft’s new ultraportable PC, code-named “Origami.” Jupiter Research has a decent write-up. There’s a lot of chatter going about what the thing really is (and is for). Is it a portable device? Is it for GPS & Multimedia? Is it a new kind of notebook? The questions are justified.
The Origami is really just a scaled-down PC with a touch screen that runs Windows XP. This leaves us with a very wide range of possibilities in terms of what it can do. Yet, amidst all this marketing hype, Microsoft has failed to really deliver any sort of real story. Yes, there exists a chasm between the notebook market and PDA’s. Filling that gap is a business goal – a business goal hardly grounded in solving any real problems for people. Microsoft needs to take a page from Apple and narrowly define the capabilities of Origami. How is this going to make the average person’s life more pleasurable or less painful?
Of course, there are all sorts of possibilities. Reading articles, blogs and syndicated content. Watching and listening to multimedia. Sending and receiving emails. These are all problems that lack a killer device that nails them head on (Apple took care of the portable music market). So while I’m sure many technical hurdles had to be overcome to make this thing a reality, there’s still a lot more to do.
The remainder of that work lies in software, or more specifically, the design of software. Nobody out there makes the distinction between the software on their iPods, the hardware on their iPods, and iTunes. It’s a single cohesive experience that masks all the technical interplay and simply solves a problem. I look at the icons and menus on this thing and I just cringe. The message most people will get is : Who needs a PC with a tiny screen and no keyboard or mouse?
Microsoft needs to take Apple’s lead and solve a real problem; deliver a message around that solution (not the hardware that helped solve it); and follow it with a simple story that gets delivered through a simple interface. No icons. No start menu. Keep it simple and succinct. As a designer, I get excited about the possibilities of such a device, but not in the context of a Windows XP application. I think the narrowed mode of control (touch screen and some thumb controls) is actually a blessing – allowing for a highly focused experience.
Your early adopters and tech heads will enjoy this. But the real frontier is the average Jack and Jill who would see this and within 10 seconds say “Ah!” And only good experience design can achieve that. Only after that last hurdle can innovation become mainstream.