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

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"With notebooks at $399, why would anybody spend hundreds more for OQO to do basically the same thing?" asked Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass. "The OQO was a great case of a product looking for a market, and one where designers built it because they could."

Defining the MID

So just what is a MID, exactly? Almost all analysts -- and some mobile device manufacturers -- say they detest the term, partly because there are so many different variations within the product category.

For example, it's fairly clear that a MID falls between most smartphones and netbooks in size, but some MIDs support voice, while others just support data (which, to be fair, can still be used to support voice over IP). A touch-screen is standard, but some devices rely solely on the screen for data entry, while others also have a physical keyboard that folds or slides out. MIDs range greatly in storage capacity as well.

Further muddying the waters are industry terms such as smartbook, Internet tablet (IT), Internet media tablet (IMT), pocket PC and Ultramobile PC (UMPC), which are sometimes used interchangeably with MID. Online discussion groups such as the Pocketables Forum are laden with posts that try to hash out differences among the product types.

But, really, isn't MID just a marketing term?

"Intel foisted the MID acronym on the market," Baker said. Gold called the MID a "marketing gimmick" designed to make the product set sound new and different, when MIDs are primarily a variation on devices that are either smaller or bigger.

Even so, back in March Baker wrestled with a MID definition, which he admitted has undergone plenty of updating just in the past few months. Back then, he wrote a paper calling a MID something that needed to be "pocketable," which would mandate maximum dimensions of 3.5 x .75 x 7 inches, with the majority much smaller and thinner. The screen would have to be between 3.5 inches and 5 inches. They would allow text entry, but not be usable for extended text entry due the size of the keyboards, meaning they would not compete with the larger netbook.

Elektrobit's concept MID
Only slightly larger than an iPhone, Elektrobit's concept MID is designed to be data-centric and remain powered on.

Finland-based Elektrobit Corp., or EB, defines MIDs similarly. The company is shopping around a prototype MID design as a data-centric device that also will remain powered on and is pocketable. Differentiating its MID concept from similarly sized smartphones, EB officials have said that a MID is Internet-capable first, perhaps with voice added, while a smartphone is voice first and then Internet-capable.

Samsung in March announced the Mondi MID to run on Clearwire's WiMax network. Lesser known players such as Viliv in Korea and Aigo in China have also introduced MIDs of various sizes, and LG has announced a MID to appear next year with the next generation of Intel's Atom processor, code-named Moorestown. Intel is also backing a Linux-based OS called Moblin that could be used atop Moorestown chips in MIDs and netbooks.

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