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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Even Nokia, the biggest cell phone maker globally, makes mobile computers that Gartner and others refer to as MIDs, such as the N97 and the upcoming N900, with its new Maemo browser, selling on pre-order for $649 in the U.S. Notably, the N900 runs on an ARM processor, not on Intel's Atom chip. (Gartner has declared ARM better than Atom at powering smaller devices, at least in Atom's current iteration.)

Interestingly, Nokia says it doesn't sell MIDs, even though many Nokia customers clearly see the N97 and upcoming N900 as MID-type devices. "We don't make MIDs, just mobile computers and smartphones," a Nokia spokesman said in an e-mail. But members of the online Nokia N97 Forum insist that the N97 is a MID, and a very popular one to boot. Nokia says about 2 million N97s have shipped.

Who needs a MID?

Clearly, Intel still believes there is a place for the MID. A spokeswoman for Intel said OQO's failure might have been linked to its market focus on business users and students, whereas the real success of MIDs will lie instead with "consumers, the mainstream."

Will Stofega, an IDC analyst, agrees. "We look at the MID market as focused on the consumer. I don't think an enterprise-class MID fits," he said, noting that while the acronym MID has been around a while, the market for it is just forming.

Intel's strategy for MIDs includes adding Internet connectivity to consumer-oriented handheld devices with some computing power, such as portable media players, gaming consoles, GPS devices and e-readers, according to analysts and the Intel spokeswoman. "It's a convergence, where these [consumer electronics] devices are becoming smarter and having more PC-like performance, but [are] Internet connected," the company spokeswoman said.

A number of manufacturers besides Intel are buying into the consumer approach. According to Gartner, Sony is planning to Internet-enable a broad array of consumer electronics devices, which Gartner believes could be classified as MIDs. The just-released Archos 5 media player/Internet tablet is another consumer device that is moving into MID territory.

Viliv X70 EX
On the larger end of the MID scale, the X70 EX from Viliv measures 8.3 x 4.6 x .9 inches and has a 7-inch display.

Ericsson recently announced the C 3607w, a mobile broadband module that hardware manufacturers can integrate into MIDs and consumer electronics devices. Scheduled to ship in 2010, the C 3607w is one-third the size of previous Ericsson modules and uses 40% less power. It will support uplink speeds of 5.7 Mbit/sec. wirelessly and will work with ARM and Atom chips, among others, said Jan Backman, director of marketing for Ericsson mobile broadband modules.

Backman said there will be a market for business and productivity-focused MIDs, but the starting point will be providing faster wireless connections to consumer devices such as e-readers. Ericsson believes "the longer-term vision is that everything will benefit from a wireless connection," Backman said.

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