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MIDs face tough climb?

Nov 3, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Mobile Internet devices (MIDs) face stiff challenges ahead, including lack of broadband wireless deployments, limited software, and low battery life, says Hong Kong-based research firm CCID Consulting. Meanwhile, French wireless carrier SFR announced it will offer the Linux-based Archos PMP and Compal JAX10 MID.

Announced by Intel early last year, the MID format is now beginning to be supported in products from vendors such as USI (MID-160). The CCID analysis takes a global view of the MID market, but seems to filter its analysis through issues that are of particular concern to the Chinese market. CCID Consulting released its analysis without reference to a particular study about the MID format, nor does it include any market projections except to predict that most MIDs will ship with Linux.

According to the group, MID is yet another one of Intel's “horizontal” efforts to boost processor sales, many of which have faltered. “Great expectations have been laid on MID,” says the report, but the “cold reactions” to Intel's previously touted UMPC format and Classmate PC places more pressure on the format, says the research group. “If MID can achieve their anticipated results, it will become an important breakthrough for Intel processor products' horizontal development,” says the article. “MID is not only a new product, but Intel's attempt to transform the processor business entirely.”

Compal JAX10 MID running FST's FancyPants graphics stack
(Click on either to enlarge)

Major Asian vendors such as Lenovo, Samsung, Asus, and Founder have all expressed interest in supporting the MID format, says the group. However, it suggests they may be hesitant after a recent release of a MID from China-based Huaqi that “hasn't been able to carry through large-scale production and sale.” The Huaqi MID appears to be a China-targeted brand of the recently released Aigo P8860D, pictured at top. (For more on the Aigo, see farther below.)

Challenges facing the rollout of MIDs are said by CCID to include:

  • Limited wireless broadband — The MID format is built around the concept of broadband wireless connectivity, using WiFi, HSPA, or WiMAX. However, at least in China, the status of wireless Internet roll-outs are not “optimistic,” says the group. By the end of 2007, China had less than 10,000 WiFi hotspots; and limited-bandwidth 2.5G GPRS is far more common than 3G HSPA. WiMAX deployments, meanwhile, will be “difficult to realize large-scale” in China, says CCID.
  • Lack of battery life — As a wireless Internet device, the MID is intended to be highly portable, yet the Intel Atom's energy consumption is still prohibitively high, says CCID. MID standby time is typically less than six hours, says the group. Meanwhile, ARM-based MIDs, like mobile phones, enjoy standby times of a week or more.
  • Lack of software — MID's software compatibility and “network content updating” still need to be improved, says CCID. Due primarily to cost considerations, most MIDs will adopt Linux and other open source OSes, says the group. However, it will take time to develop Linux software. In some good news for MID software, the report appears to refer to the development group, when it says: “Intel's development chain is the biggest advantage of their product promotion.” In an effort to further develop the Linux-based Moblin stack, which is targeted primarily at the MID platform, Intel recently announced an agreement with Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to jointly establish an “enabling center” for Moblin.
  • Channel pressures — MID has more in common with notebooks and netbooks than with smartphones, says CCID, so MIDs “will feed off of the PC market.” The problem with this scenario is that “PC manufacturers can't enlarge their market share against MID in the short-term, and MID will increase PC manufacturers' R&D and operation costs,” says the group. “MID products' promotion runs into a dilemma with the upstream of the industry chain,” it adds.

In the long run, Intel is not the only company evaluating the basic MID format. “VIA, Nvidia and ARM are paying strategic attention to MID,” says the group. The article then concludes, “If Intel's MID products don't provide new breakthroughs, Intel and its industrial partners' pre-promotion and payments will have been wasted.”

French wireless provider offers Compal-based MID

Archos 5
(Click for details)

SFR is introducing both the “SFR M! PC Pocket 3G+” and “Archos 3G+,” both Linux-based, MID-like devices that offer HSPA 3G wireless capability, says the French wireless carrier. The latter appears to be the Archos 5 (pictured at right), which was announced in August along with a larger-screen Archos 7 model. Both devices are based on an “ARM Cortex core,” which suggests it is the Texas Instruments OMAP35xx line of system-on-chips (SoCs). Billed by Archos as portable media players (PMPs), the tablet-based devices do not fit the strict Intel definition of the MID format, due to their lack of Intel Atom processor, but they are otherwise quite similar.

The SFR M! PC Pocket 3G+, meanwhile, appears to be the Compal JAX10 MID design (pictured farther above). The Compal design appears to be the basis for the aforementioned Aigo P8860D and the identical Gigabyte M528 MIDs. The Compal site does not appear to offer any information on the MID, although it does offer pages for variety of portable media players (PMPs), including the uClinux-based APA00 player.

In late August, FST showed off a prototype of the JAX10 design running a new Moblin-compatible version of its FancyPants lightweight graphics stack. According to FST, the JAX10 runs Moblin on an Intel Atom clocked at 800MHz, with 512MB RAM, and a 800 x 480-pixel display. These specs, as well as the physical design, match the Aigo and Gigabyte MIDs exactly, and according to industry reports form the basis for both MIDs.

Meanwhile, Option, which furnishes the HSPA 3G modem chipset for the Compal MID, offers a page with photos of the device, here. SFR does not yet appear to be actively selling either the SFR M! PC Pocket 3G+ or the Archos 3G+ on its site, although it announced it was introducing the products this Fall.


CCID Consulting does not yet appear to offer a research report on MIDs to back up its analysis, but in time, more information may appear on its site, here.

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