A few weeks ago, I was in Shanghai, at the Intel Developers Forum. Intel was keen to show off what it hopes will be the bridging device between high-end mobiles and laptops: the mobile Internet device or MID. Intel was showing off a lot of interesting things at the conference. The MID, sadly, was not one of them.
Perhaps I'm being overly harsh: the MID is interesting. Interesting, that is, in the way I can't quite figure out if Intel has some secret insight into the minds of device buyers or if the MID is actually what I suspect it really is: a triumph of marketing over common sense.
The idea behind the MID is that there are a whole load of users out there who want always-on connectivity, the ability to mess around on the Internet whenever they need, but don't want to hoik a laptop around. Too cumbersome. Too heavy.
A good point — my laptop weighs about as much as a small dog and is roughly the same size (and, for that matter, takes as much work to look after). But the latest round of MIDs aren't exactly pocket-sized, unless we're seeing a return to the late nineties style-horrors that were combat pants.
It's a problem that even Intel seems to acknowledge. At the Intel Developer Forum, the company's mobility group GM Dadi Perlmutter was asked if he thought that the MID will be a big seller. In a sort of answering-the-question-but-not way, he said that the previous bulky form factors of the devices had stymied demand.
"This form factor has a better chance, the next generation has a way better chance," he added. It's not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence from the horse's mouth, is it?
Presumably, this is a hint that MIDs are going to get smaller and more pocket friendly. But is this a good thing? Shrink them more and they become dangerously like a slightly overgrown mobile phone. And, like the mobile phone, the MID really needs mobile connectivity to be genuinely useful.
The MID is all about being able to get whatever crap from the Internet you want whenever you want it. In the event the device only has Wi-Fi, the dream dies: how often are you in the vicinity of a free hotspot? The only place I have free, reasonably decent Wi-Fi is my living room. Which has a laptop in it. So not much need for an MID there then.
The more seemingly obvious connectivity of choice is 3G — it's ubiquitous and, after all the HSDPA upgrades of late, able to handle the data — but who wants to buy a second mobile subscription just so they can watch YouTube vids down the pub?
If mobile operators allowed you to split your data allowance between two devices, well, that might give the MID a leg up. Only they don't. Ditto if the MIDs worked on WiMax and WiMax subscriptions were cheap and, oh yes, if we actually had a WiMax network to start with, then there might be a case for the MIDs. But we don't, and there's not.
And while I'm at it: the MID's raison d'Ãªtre is Internet consumption. But who just wants consumption these days? The Internet is now all about production: data caps on broadband, for example, now include uploads as consumers want to share shot after yawn-inducing shot of their offspring/party/pet/day spent washing the car, while Facebook attests to our love of uploading the minutiae of our lives, scattergun-style, for all to see.
To tickle our content production tastebuds, a camera maybe, or a hard, slide-out keyboard wouldn't go amiss — but then we're once again into the chunky smartphone or eeePC territory, and that's already being milked for all its worth.
The MID wants to position itself in the device pantheon as somewhere between a laptop and a phone. Alas, all it's doing is falling between two stools.