Hardware vendors unveil Atom-based mobile devices

update Ten hardware makers unveil mobile Internet devices based on Intel's new ultra-small Atom chip. Products expected to launch by third-quarter 2008.

update SHANGHAI--Ten vendors on Wednesday unveiled new mobile Internet devices (MIDs) based on Intel's new Atom chip at the chipmaker's developer forum.

Most notably, several flaunted their systems' capability to run Microsoft's Windows Vista--a task which Intel has touted as too intensive to run on existing mobile processors, but possible on Atom.

Connectivity also took center stage, with many of the devices designed to support multiple standards such as 3.5G and WiMax, according to the hardware vendors.

Panasonic's Toughbook offering stood out as a ruggardized MID targeted at manufacturing and construction verticals.

The hardware makers expect to launch their devices between the second and third quarters of this year.

Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of its ultra mobility group, announced during a press conference that some 20 OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have signed on to produce MIDs.

A spokesperson from BenQ said a key differenciator for the company's device was ease of use. "We need to break the entry barrier to the masses," he said.

Aigo's spokesperson hinted at the possible rolling out of a translation software for its MID in time for the Olympics, but said this was not confirmed.

Jason Yin, managing director of analyst firm, In-Stat China, said there is "intense" demand for connectivity in China. Yin pointed to the estimated 400,000 iPhones circulating in the country ahead of its official launch, saying this showed the country's appetite for devices capable of delivering a richer Internet experience.

But all this relies on the wireless infrastructure available in the country. Yin said he is "disappointed" by China's delays in rolling out stable wireless broadband.

"Right now, most of the MIDs can only be used indoors," said Yin, adding that the MIDs will only reach full potential once they can be used on a stable wireless network outdoors.

This will happen "once a competitive new carrier comes up" to bring the service to the public, said Yin, predicting this will take another five years to achieve.

Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group added that should adequate infrastructure be in place, take-up of MIDs will accelerate even faster than mobile phones did.

The manufacturers who jointly made the annoucement to produce MIDs were: Aigo, Lenovo, Asus, BenQ, Clarion, Fujitsu, Hanbit, USI, Panasonic and Wilcom.

Victoria Ho ZDNet Asia reported from the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai, China.