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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The advent of faster cellular networks such as LTE, scheduled to be rolled out by U.S. carriers in several markets in 2010, will increase the value of MIDs, which have usually been connected via Wi-Fi in the past, analysts said.

Gartner's Baker believes that the dream of connecting an array of consumer devices to the Internet will be achieved by some manufacturers fairly soon. Sony, for instance, has committed to having 90% of its consumer electronics Internet-enabled by the end of 2010. "That's a pretty strong bellwether, considering how enormous Sony is in the consumer electronics field," Baker said.

At the same time, neither Baker and nor his Gartner colleague Ken Dulaney believe there is much of a MID market today for devices that are bigger than smartphones like the iPhone. Outside of the iPhone and iPod Touch, Baker estimated that only a few million MIDs have shipped globally. IDC said it is currently tabulating how many have shipped, but is not ready to publish the results.

Dulaney said the more important question is how MIDs might eventually be co-opted by smartphones like the iPhone, which is supported by tens of thousands of media-centric and data-centric -- not necessarily voice-centric -- apps. "Many people are saying 'I don't need a MID,' and instead are saying an iPhone is smaller and does the job," he said. "Intel's vision of MIDs ... is flawed."

With the iPhone sold with a subsidy by AT&T in the U.S., it can be had for hundreds of dollars less than many MIDs offered today. But Baker believes those higher prices for MIDs will come down, especially if the concept of Internet-connected consumer electronics catches on.

Does the name even matter?

To some extent, analysts and industry insiders say using a term like MID is just confusing to buyers and end users, who generally approach buying a computer with a size and weight in mind and with a strong sense of how they will use the device. Mobility is key to nearly everybody these days, and most buyers have a clear sense of whether they need more of a media player or a device for e-mail or texting.

Archos 5 Internet tablet
The Archos 5 Internet tablet is blurring the line between media players and MIDs.

"Buyers could care less about the form factor's name and the standards it runs on," IDC's Stofega said. "If they have a need, they buy it."

Nokia's Axel Meyer, head of design for the company's N series, took a philosophical approach to how Nokia sees the MID and related devices. He noted that the starting point for any design is to "understand how people live, what their needs are, how they communicate and how [these factors] will be shaped over the next few years."

Meyer added in an e-mail: "Things have changed a lot for designers in the last couple of years. No longer do we decide what people can do with their devices, and in a way we only design part of the product. We leave them unfinished and the final design is done by the people who use them. They determine what they become and how they are used."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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