Microsoft on Thursday took off the wraps from its new computer concept, the Ultra-Mobile Personal Computer or UMPC – a small entertainment and internet-connected device aimed at the consumer market.

The UMPC was unveiled at the CeBIT technology trade fair in Hannover, Germany, following an internet pre-launch campaign dubbed the Origami Project. Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, had called for the new category of PC last year, which has been developed with Intel, the chipmaker.

“We believe that UMPCs will eventually become as indispensable and ubiquitous as mobile phones are today,” said Bill Mitchell, vice-president of the Windows Mobile Platforms division, at the launch.

Microsoft demonstrated a touch-screen UMPC developed by Samsung. The baseline specifications for a UMPC are a weight of less than 2lbs, or 0.9 kilos, and a 7in, or 17.8cm, screen size.

The device will run on Intel chips and Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC operating system, before moving on to its Vista software, due this year. It is expected to cost between $600 and $1,000 depending on individual manufacturers’ configurations.

Tim Bajarin of the Creative Strategies consultancy said the UMPC had been around for about two years, but its usage had been restricted to industrial applications, such as devices being used by doctors in hospitals. Economics could now make it more than a niche product, he said.

“They are now able to produce low-voltage processors at much lower cost and the screens have become almost commodity products and are also much less expensive.”

Paul Otellini, Intel chief executive, said this week that there had been a blurring of the lines between the functionality of notebook PCs and mobile phones. The UMPC could occupy a gap between these two products, he said.

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