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Demystifying the MID

Mobile Internet devices could be the wave of the future — if everyone could agree on what they are. These elusive gadgets — not quite smartphones and not quite PCs — have even been seen by some as nothing more than a marketing ploy by processor vendors. This new class of handheld computing and Web-surfing devices grows and shrinks depending on who's offering the definition, but it seems that most manufacturers, wireless operators and analysts are looking toward the middle.

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Several devices, including Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPod Touch, have been declared MIDs by someone or another, but the market becomes more discerning when broken down. MIDs on the global market today include the Archos 7, the flagship media tablet from Archos that offers instantaneous access to a full Web browsing experience on its 5-inch, high-resolution screen. Likewise, the pocket-size Clarion MiND features a 5-inch LCD touch-screen for personal navigation.

Mobile advisory firm Disruptive Analysis is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for this ill-defined space but classified early forecasts as over-enthusiastic. Initial expectations from several firms put the market at exploding this year or next, but with the economic downturn and recent success of fellow middle-of-the-road netbooks, it could be 2012 before MIDs take the spotlight. Overall, Disruptive Analysis expects MID shipments to increase steadily from 3 million in 2009 to 30 million by 2014 — a sizable market, but no more than a small fraction of the combined smartphone and laptop market.

MIDs often are lumped into the same category as netbooks, ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) and e-mail-only devices, but they are not one and the same, despite what chipmakers may claim, said Ian Lao, senior analyst for Current Analysis. In his definition, a MID is a dedicated PC companion device that ultimately is driven by the application with which it aligns. Such devices have a 5- to 8-inch display, a touch-screen panel or other “touch” user interface, and keypads are optional — unlike on a UMPC or netbook. The distinction between MIDs and other ultra-mobile devices lies in the size, the underlying processing power and the level of connectivity.

“The expectation of the smaller, truly mobile devices is that just like your BlackBerry, it's connected all the time,” Lao said. “If I'm mobile, I have no idea where I will be. I am not necessarily always near a mesh network where I can get a connection. The whole purpose for having a MID is the fact that I can get to something.”

Dean Bubley, analyst for Disruptive Analysis, breaks the market down even further into two separate camps. The first is made up of generic MIDs, tablet devices intended for a variety of apps but not optimized for any one function. The second is a range of more app-specific devices evolved from gaming consoles or personal navigation devices, which can do many secondary functions but have one clear purpose. The form factor of both segments varies slightly depending on the use case, but both are aimed at the consumer market. Bubley is not optimistic on the generic category, deeming it an additional device for consumers with mobile Internet-driven lifestyles.

“Everyone who has a MID for the foreseeable future will have a cell phone and access to the PC as well,” Bubley said. “They will be additional gadgets for technical enthusiasts.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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