Attack of the Tweeners: Handicapping MIDs, Tablets, and Smartbooks

For every company that’s excited about creating a device that falls between smart phones and netbooks, there are five others that tell me that they’re still trying to figure out what problem these tweeners are trying to solve.

From smallest to biggest you have mobile Internet devices (MIDs), tablets (not to be confused with Tablet PCs), and smartbooks.

But what are these things really?

What makes defining these relatively new gadget categories complicated is that there is some overlap between them. For example, just yesterday ABI Research said that four million “media tablets” shipped this year, and that by 2015 that number will reach about 57 million.

Basically combining MIDs and tablets, the firm defines these devices “as having a touchscreen interface, 5 to 11 inches in size, with Wi-Fi Internet connectivity and video and gaming capabilities.” Meanwhile, Google says it’s upcoming OS will power the next generation of netbooks, when the reality is that they’re referring to smartbooks.

Here’s a breakdown of how I define these categories and my predictions for their chance of success. Don’t agree with these definitions? Think my predictions are off? Sound off in the comments.


Device Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs)



Tablets (Media Tablets)



Smartbooks



Screen Size 5 – 7 inches 9 – 10 inches 9 – 10 inches
Price Range $200 to $600 $300 to $600 $200 to $500 (estimated)
What are they? Slightly larger than smart phones, MIDs are designed to deliver a full Web experience in your pocket. Slate-style devices that are optimized for surfing the Web, reading eBooks, and accessing multimedia. Clamshell devices that offer instant-on functionality, integrated 3G connectivity, and long battery life.
Who are they for? Shoppers who want a bigger screen than a smart phone for surfing the Web and accessing multimedia. Couch potatoes, business travelers, avid readers, and anyone looking for a low-cost Internet appliance. Shoppers who like the idea of owning a smart phone but would prefer a bigger screen and keyboard.
Processor Choices ARM and Atom CPUs ARM and Atom CPUs ARM CPUs (Snapdragon, Tegra)
OS Choices Most run Linux (Android), some Windows Android, iPhone OS, Windows 7 Android and other flavors of Linux. Google Chrome coming soon.
Best Known Products Archos 5, Dell Mini 5 concept, ICD Ultra, UMID M1, Viliv N5 Apple iPad, HP Slate, JooJoo, MSI Dual-Screen TabletNotion Ink Adam Lenovo Skylight, Mobinova Beam
Pros
  • More compact than tablets (can fit in coat pocket).
  • Bigger screens make Flash content (when supported) more compelling.
  • Some can run full Windows and have (cramped) physical keyboards, like a mini netbook
  • Less expensive than traditional Tablet PCs.
  • Touch interface and large screen combine to offer compelling Web surfing experience.
  • Many double as eReaders and can run touch-enabled apps and games.


  • Thinner, lighter, and boots faster than Windows netbooks
  • Built-in mobile broadband and GPS come standard.
  • Will likely be affordable (with carrier subsidy).
  • Lasts 8 to 10 hours on a charge without bulky battery.


Cons
  • Smart phones are getting bigger screens and faster processors, making MIDs seem somewhat redundant.
  • Android-based MIDs have shortage of apps that run at full screen.
  • Windows-based MIDs not as touch friendly.
  • Tablets based on phone OSes not as versatile as full PCs, and multitasking is either clumsy or non-existent.
  • Models based on desktop OSes lack breadth of touch-enabled apps and likely won’t last as long on a charge.
  • Consumers have not embraced Linux on netbooks, and there is zero evidence this will change for smartbooks.
  • Windows is more familiar, has better peripheral support, and runs more popular applications.
Real Chance of Success 20 % Because the next generation of “superphones” have 1.0-GHz processors and 4-inch (or larger) displays, it’s hard to see this category having any staying power. But consumers looking for a connected portable media player or gaming device could be tempted. MIDs are becoming smart phones. 70 % Even though the Apple iPad has some limitations, it is creating a great amount of buzz and excitement for the entire category. Tablets will likely replace eReaders as screen technologies evolve. In some cases, tablets will also cannibalize sales of netbooks, especially among those looking for a simple Internet appliance. 40 % Given that you can get a Windows 7 netbook for $200 or less on contract, it’s hard to see smartbooks taking off in the short term. But they could gain some momentum once Web apps get more robust (with the help of HTML 5). In the meantime, carriers will need to figure out how to play up smartbooks’ unique strengths.
$200 to $600
AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Bob Russell Says:

    Why can’t a smartbook have Windows on it? Sure, the hardware and O/S doesn’t really support it in terms of price, battery life, instant on and touch interfaces — yet.

    But, in the future, won’t it still be a smartbook if it’s the same an an Android machine, but running Windows?

  2. GUmeR Says:

    I think the 3.5″-5″ smartphones will succeed. Everyone has a phone, so why not have one with internet, chats, voip, apps etc. etc.

    IDEA: Why not create tablet/netbook *without* motherboard at all, just plug in your smartphone into internal dock, and you get full keyboard + big screen + additional battery + lots of ports?

  3. JimmaJabba Says:

    Doesn’t seem like there is much separating the smartbooks from netbooks except the OS and the prevalence of 3G being included. I think this category will merge with netbooks as it isn’t distinct enough…

  4. Marco Says:

    I need a small device to check my emails, browse the web and occasionally modify some office documents, while using public transportation. I would prefer something like the old HTC X7500, but definetely lighter and thinner. I could also use it on my bed, for the same purposes and to watch some movies, listen to the music or read some text. For me, MID wins!

  5. Another guy Says:

    For me, as a mobile IT professional, the ability to use Windows environment on a MID device that I can fit on a jacket pocket is just priceless. I am waiting for the UMID M2 with 3G to come out and I will buy it right away: I can edit HTML documents in Dreamweaver, do some minor Photoshop corrections, upload files using my FTP software, etc. The Atom processor and the 1024×600 resolution along with Windows XP make these new MID devices a road warrior’s best friend.

    For me, MID wins!

    I personally don’t see a point on the iPad or the Smartbooks. I mean, there’s nothing they can do that the already existing (and fantastic) EEE PC Tablet T91 can’t.

  6. Ernest Lilley Says:

    Mark,

    I think you’ve nailed it. There’s a place for “media tablets,” good name for them BTW, but they will no doubt cannibalize the adjoining segments a bit. I’m looking forward to more options in the 10.1 capacitive area, which is just about the same size as a trade paperback. I’m also looking forward to studies on how LED back-lighting works for eReading, since eInk has made so much of the eyestrain issue. And finally, while I’m all for touchscreens you can manipulate with your finger, I’m hoping that someone develops stylus technology that offers drag (the kind paper’s tooth gives) and pressure sensitivity. Of course, I’ve been waiting for tablet to take over since Bill promised they would some years back, but I think their time may well have come.

    Ernest
    Sr. Editor – Techrevu.com

  7. kwikit Says:

    I think the mistakes of the article lie in the presumption that everyone buys these things to consume media. Like Another Guy, I bought my portable device to be productive when I’m on the road. Living in NYC, I’m on the subway a lot, so I bought the Viliv X70 to do Photoshop, produce Midi files in EnergyXT or Hydrogen, work on some personal blog entries in Word or Open Office, etc. I did not buy the device to consume content, but to create it while I’m running around. Since the content is for personal use, and not my real job, and because I wanted light and portable, for convenience, I limited my expenditure and the size, so the X70 fit perfectly… $700, 1.5lbs and 7″ screen, only 8.5″ long, 4.5″ wide, 1.25″ deep, approximately. I’m presently dual booting Ubuntu Studio 9.10 and Windows XP Pro.

    I hope the manufacturer’s keep improving whatever category the X70 falls into…

  8. notlofty Says:

    Sorry I’m a little late to the party.
    It all depends on what the individual wants to do with their device and then what category of individual most people fall under. Are most people business men who want to do work during transit on the subway? The problem with the smartphone is that you aren’t just paying for a device, you also have to factor in an additional more $300 a year for the data.
    Personally for me I don’t really find it necessary for me to need internet every moment everywhere no matter where I am, especially since I nowadays you can get wifi at your home, your school, your workplace and even fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, I also get wifi at my church but I don’t expect many churches to have that.
    I love Gumer’s idea and have actually independently thought of it myself. My ideal device would have a convertible smartbook sans motherboard with a smaller device that you plug in. But since I don’t want a smartphone my smaller device would be an mp3 player/MID. Something like the ipod touch but with android. Give it a pixel qi screen, a gps and a tegra 2 processor and what do you have? A pocketable media, navigation and internet machine with the android ecosystem that can easily be plugged in and transformed into a laptop, a tablet or an e-reader all while getting fabulous battery life. A smartphone/mp3 player/MID already probably has all day battery life, then what happens when you plug it into this smartbook like shell with an even bigger battery?
    As you can tell I’m a bit frugal and I don’t want to buy into the tech companies telling me that I have to have ten million devices so that they make more money. I want one device that will let me do everything I need all the time.
    @JimmaJabba I think one of the main differences isn’t just OS and 3G but ARM or x86. Netbook uses an x86 processor like you are used to on your full laptop or desktop while the smartbook uses ARM like you are used to on your smartphone.

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