New Technologies, New Experiences
As MID shipments are expected to boom this year, we’ll begin to see new devices housing technologies that will increase their functionality and attractiveness to shoppers. On the hardware side, Intel’s Moorestown platform (the next-generation Atom processor) looks to play a role in the future of MIDs. In fact, this is the engine found inside the LG GW990, a 4.8-inch smart phone/MID hybrid that will become available later this year. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip (based on ARM technology but with high-octane graphics) will enable MIDs such as the upcoming 7-inch ICD Ultra to output 1080p video to a big-screen monitor or TV.
On the software front, Google’s Android OS (and by extension, Linux as a whole) currently dominates MID user interfaces, appearing on such devices as the Archos 5. Although Windows rules the larger computing space, the reverse is true for smaller devices. According to ABI Research, 72 percent of MIDs shipped in 2009 ran a mobile version of Linux, save for a handful of devices such as the UMID mbook M1, which used Windows XP. The Android platform is expected to shine in 2010, as it’s the OS of choice for the Archos 5, ICD Ultra, and Dell Mini 5 concept.
“Mobile Linux, including Android and Maemo, is expected to remain the dominant OS platform for MIDs,” said ABI Research’s Orr. “Windows [XP, Vista, and 7] has little traction in the handheld ‘instant available’ market.” In other words, Windows’ slow boot time makes it an OS that isn’t conducive to speedy content access.
The one major factor Orr believes could prevent desktop versions of Windows from making headway is that ARM processors, which are optimized for low power, are expected to be commonplace in the latest crop of MIDs. Since they don’t utilize an x86 instruction set, ARM CPUs can’t currently run Windows. Orr believes that as MIDs make a shift from ARM-based processors to more x86 architectures (such as Intel’s Moorestown), there may be increased interest in desktop Windows. However, even that possible evolution may not push Microsoft into the MID space; Windows simply isn’t optimized for smaller touchscreen displays.
On the other hand, not everyone is sold on Android’s mainstream viability, even with the Google name backing the platform. Though cloud computing has rendered the traditional operating system practically irrelevant for casual computer use, Viliv’s Lee believes that consumers long for the familiarity of Windows. “With Windows, people feel more comfortable,” he said. “They can drag and drop their files when they connect to their main PCs.”
Still, Lee conceded that unfamiliar operating systems won’t be as big of a stumbling block as some anticipate. He envisions many people simply wanting a well-designed media tablet for viewing photos, listening to music, and watching video clips. Should his intuition prove correct, any of the various Linux flavors (such as Android or Moblin) may have an opportunity to gain a strong foothold as long as the interface is intuitive.
Lee and others also expect to see an increased number of MIDs sold through carriers as they attempt to increase the number of two-year 3G mobile broadband subscriptions. However, Orr isn’t sold on the MID being right for all customers, particularly since those who own high-end smart phones may not need a portable PC. Mobile apps, after all, can replicate many of a full-fledged computer’s features. “If you already have a smart phone, you’re not going to need a MID,” he said. “It replaces a feature phone.”