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By Carl Howe

We wrote earlier in the week about the rather unfocused buzz marketing of the Origami PC. Well, I read about of all the coverage of the device at CeBIT and at the Intel Developer's Forum, and over the weekend, I found myself asking myself this question: "Where I have I seen a device like that before?"

I found it looking through my CES photos. It is the Pepper Pad, which is actually available today from Amazon.com for about $800. If you take away the split thumb keyboard, there are definitely some similarities between the two devices. The Origami has a 7-inch display, while the Pepper (pictured) has an 8.4-inch one. Both have substantial wireless networking capabilities. But the Pepper includes two additional killer apps for the home user -- a built-in voice over Internet application and a powerful programmable IR blaster so you can use the device to control your home theater system (or, if you live in close proximity to your neighbor's living room window, their home theater system).

Yes, the Pepper is an ugly duckling in comparison to the Origami. But the device is hugely functional, much more so than the devices that were shown at CeBIT -- some videos showed booth representatives struggling to figure out how to bring up the launching software and the virtual keyboard. Having played with the Pepper at CES, a physical thumb keyboard beats the heck out of a virtual touch-screen keyboard, particularly for email and Web browsing. And the Pepper's marketing and bundled applications software identifies a pretty recognizable if niche market: the technically savvy engineer who wants a device that surfs the web, plays stored and streaming movies, checks his email, answers his phone, and controls his TV all from the comfort of his couch.

The bottom line: Someone needs to figure out what consumer need these devices fill. The Pepper at least tried and has bundled hardware and applications that address one identifiable niche (i.e., the worlds most programmable remote control, Internet browser, and media player). Origami platforms still need someone to think that through, create the complete solution, and communicate why people need it. Sadly, the people who designed the platform didn't really bother before they launched it.

A final word: Some at UMPC Buzz are claiming that both the Apple and Linux communities may use the UMPC platform (Intel's name for what Microsoft calls Origami) for future products. Cool. Maybe Pepper will sell just their software bundle under the tag line, "Wouldn't you rather be a Pepper too?"

Source: Microsoft Origami - A Pepper Pad With Better Design, Worse Marketing (MSFT)