Mobile Internet Devices: Just getting started or dead in the water?

A device that's sized between the smartphone and the netbook may see its future in consumer electronics

Is the Mobile Internet Device dead on arrival? Or, has the MID -- a 'Net-connected device that's usually described as being bigger than a smartphone and smaller than a netbook -- just not caught on yet?

The answer to these questions is a bit complicated, and depends on whom you talk to, and how they define the category. According to some, the MID is far from dead -- in fact, they say, it's thriving.

Gartner Inc., for instance, considers Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPod Touch to be examples of MIDs, even though the iPhone is more commonly called a smartphone. Considering that those two Apple devices have been fabulously successful, selling 50 million units globally in less than three years, the MID category looks quite healthy indeed. Gartner also considers e-readers that are connected to the Internet (like the Amazon Kindle) to be MIDs.

But other MIDs have struggled to carve out a niche in the mobile device market, and some, like the much-hyped OQO device, failed before they even got off the ground. With a troubled past, is there any future for this "tweener" product category?

MID origins, and an early casualty

The name MID has been around at least five years, and seems to have first been popularized by Intel Corp. Intel is heavily invested in the MID concept; it showed off several MID prototypes powered by its Atom processor in January 2009 at its sprawling displays at the International CES show.

During his CES keynote, Intel chairman Craig Barrett demoed the OQO model 2+, a MID that was to have been available in the first half of 2009 for $999. Sporting a 5-inch touch-screen with a slide-out 58-key physical keyboard, it would run an Intel Atom processor, have up to 60GB of storage and run Windows Vista or XP.

OQO model 2+
The OQO model 2+ never made it to market.

But it never happened. OQO Inc., founded in San Francisco in 2000, closed its doors earlier this year without shipping the model 2+. Although the company Web site still touts the model 2+, the "About us" page reports the company's demise.

Few people are willing to speculate on why OQO failed, but Gartner analyst Van Baker said OQO devices came with physical keyboards that were too small for users wanting to type long documents. And the device was marketed as "pocketable," but at 6.5 inches on its longest side, it was too big to slide into most pockets.

"It fell into what I call a dead zone," Baker said, noting that devices with screens between 5 inches and 9 inches diagonally don't perform well in the market.

What's more, the $999 OQO model 2+ was to have come with a full-blown Windows operating system in a small package, which evidently led some potential buyers to realize they'd prefer a full-sized Windows laptop for that much money or less, with a keyboard at least 90% of full size, not 25%, analysts said.

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