Borigami: What Microsoft Should Have Done

In the Hutong
Started Friday evening before sundown, finished Saturday night after sundown

Several people have asked me recently what my take is on Microsoft’s Origami ultramobile PC platform. Generally speaking, I have to agree with eWeek’s Larry Dingan when he say’s that the Origami’s future is that of a doorstop.

Where I disagree with Larry is that there is something in the form factor that dooms Origami. Frankly, I think it’s the positioning, not the device itself.

What is it — REALLY?

The problem is that Microsoft wants this to be all things to all people, and wants everyone to want one, and wants it to do everything. As a result, it will be nothing to most people, and something only to a very few, and only gadget monsters will have one. It won’t do any one thing very well, and it will wind up an expensive paperweight, just like my HP Journada 720 did.

If you see Origami as a product, I’d say it’s an answer looking for a question. As positioned – an ultramobile PC that replaces no other gadget in your bag, I can’t see the niche it fills.

I think if you see Origami as a proof-of-concept machine, however, it’s an interesting evolution of the tablet PC. I think they’ve evolved the tablet to the point where it can start delivering on the original promise. Strip out all of the hype, and what is Origami? It’s Tablet 2.0.

What Microsoft SHOULD have done – and can STILL do

Microsoft ignored some core tenets of technology product marketing. What they have – in a tablet computer – is a product that made some inroads with visionary users and early adopters, but never made it across what Geofffrey Moore calls “the chasm,” the product purgatory into which have flowed hundreds (or thousands) of really good technology products that never made it into the mass market.

To get this product across the Chasm, Microsoft should identify some really good niches with both consumers and enterprise, and then work with original equipment manufacturers, software makers, and even system integrators to create targeted products.

We’re going vertical, Goose

I’m writing a longer white paper on this with more examples, but some interesting possibilities include:

1. XboX Road Warrior (XPad): Use the same form factor, but make it an XboX machine. This is SUCH a no brainer you have to wonder whether the rain in Washington has actually drained washed the creativity out of Redmond and into the Puget Sound.

2. MapPadd: Ruggedize it, pre-load it with all USGS maps and a GPS reader. Sell it to vertical markets like hikers, linemen, military, etc. Panasonic would be one OEM. Do the same with nautical charts and sell it to mariners.

3. CADPadd: Ruggedize it, load it with AutoCAD, and turn it into a portable blueprint viewer for contractors. Given the monstrous size of AutoCAD files, this is also an obvious application. Blueprint corrections and updates on the spot. Inspector sign-offs on the spot.

4. HotPadd: Every fire truck on the planet should have one loaded with building plans for all building in its district, along with Hazmat, water sources, and other information.

5. CarPadd: Package with automotive diagnostic tools and parts catalogs for mechanics in auto repair shops. Diagnose the problem, order the part, sign the PO, send the order, e-mail estimate to owner and, if necessary, insurance company.

6. CrashPadd: For the insurance industry. Combine with a camera to enable complete claim reports to be completed onsite, allowing rapid processing of claims. This takes what some of the leading auto-insurance companies are doing in the U.S. and simplifies it (and drops the hardware investment) to a point where it could become ubiquitous in the developed world and could actually be adopted in much of Asia.

7. HousePadd: For the home inspection industry. Provides a complete checklist for the given type of dwelling, with relevant codes and diagrams, and software to create the report on the fly using the same kind of intelligent form-filling software that Intuit uses to fill tax forms. This will do much to get the industry off the ground in Asia.

8. OrderPadd: Focused on the sales vertical, especially for reps focused on restocking store shelves. As cool as ERP is and EDI was, a remarkably large percentage of retailers cannot – or do not – invest in electronic supply chain management, where an automatic order is generated when stock of something gets low. This is especially true in Asia, and particularly so in China.

But it won’t end there

Once these products are out in the marketplace, tinkerers, hackers, and all sorts of third-party vendors will come up with cool add-ons more useful, allowing the devices to become as multi-purpose as users want. Microsoft won’t need to sell the basic Internet browsing, multimedia use, or other basic functions – people will FIND them or create them as needed, and an ecosystem of enthusiasts and small businesses to serve them will emerge to help drive both buzz and adoption.

It’s not too late, Bill. Get on this. Better yet, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send you the white paper, into which I’ve thrown more niches and I’ve specified potential partners.

Hoping against hope

Frankly, though, this approach will probably bore Bill and his alchemists. Once you’ve dominated the world, anything that reeks of a niche approach is not only boring, it’s probably distasteful. On the other hand, there are plenty of smart system integrators out there. Something like this might take place without Bill’s involvement.

As to a mass market device, if it makes sense and can be done well, watch Cupertino, not Redmond. Once again, Microsoft has demonstrated why continues to suck Apple’s exhaust when it comes to creating truly great mass-market products.