Seeking to spur growth in the mini-tablet market, Intel today unveiled its new Ultra Mobile 2007 'McCaslin' platform for Windows and Linux devices.
The interface of RedFlag's MIDINUX Linux build is optimised for the smaller screen of mobile Internet devices due next year.
The platform encompasses both the existing Windows-based Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) category with screens sizes of 5 to 7 inches, and smaller mobile Internet devices with screens from 4 to 6 inches. ZDNet Australia revealed earlier this week the smaller units will be aimed at consumers and run Linux.
Products in both segments will use the new 'Stealey' CPUs, which are ultra-low voltage tweaks of the 90nm Pentium M processor with a 512Kb Level 2 cache.
The first crop of UM2007 systems are due in the middle of this year and will be UMPC-class devices running Windows Vista and Microsoft's Origami, such as updates of Samsung's MPQ1 and HTC's Shift, which was launched today at Intel's Developer Forum in Beijing by HTC president and CEO Peter Chow.
HTC -- High Tech Computer Corporation -- designs, manufactures and markets smartphones and PDA devices.
"We collaborated with Microsoft on what was then called the Haiku project, which ushered in what you're seeing today," said Anand Chandrasekher, general manager for Intel's newly formed Ultra Mobility Group. "These are all second-generation ultra-mobile devices, and they're very different to what Microsoft launched last year."
Chandrasekher said: "Intel was also seeing demand from our customers for optimised Linux for these devices. Linux is well-suited for both its footprint and power management."
HTC's Shift is based on the first Ultra Mobile 2007 platform and runs Windows Vista.
This was behind Intel's decision to work with China's RedFlag and Canonical, creators of the popular Ubuntu Linux, to create bespoke builds of their respective Linux editions optimised for the UM2007 platform, according to Chandrasekher. These will be targeted at the mobile Internet device segment as well as larger UMPCs.
"Intel's positioning of UMPCs as mobile Internet devices and its choice of Linux as an OS makes sense for OEMs, as the target audience is now consumers and prosumers rather than mobile professionals," said Hugo Ortega, director of Sydney-based tablet PC and UMPC distributor Tegatech Australia.
"UMPC sales are being dragged down by their high price, unrealistic expectations and lack of functionality with Windows Vista. Given that current UMPCs and Tablet PCs are considered as niche products, it makes sense for Intel to adopt a broader market strategy," Ortega said.
Ortega cautions that vendors will have to hit the right price point for ultra mobiles. "Cost will be a crucial factor contributing to the success or demise of these devices. If the price is too high then the same critics who slammed the first generation of Microsoft's UMPC platform will have a field day with these devices."
The Linux-powered mobile Internet devices are expected to touch down in the first half of 2008, which is also when Intel will release its second-generation ultra-mobile platform codenamed Menlow.
"Menlow is designed from the ground up for ultra-mobility," said Chandrasekher, "and it meets Intel's goal of achieving a 10x reduction in power consumption by 2008".
Menlow's Silverthorne processor will be based on the same 45nm process as Penryn and is the size of a 5c piece, while the single-chip Poulsbo chipset is slightly larger than a playing card.
The UM2007 platform also includes a special version of the Intel 945GU Express Chipset and support for hard drives and solid-state flash drives.
Most of today's UMPCs run the slower and less energy-efficient Celeron M chips but the A100 Ultra Mobile processor clocks in at 600MHz and the A110 at 800MHz, both with a 400MHz front-side bus and supporting up to 1GB of DDR2 memory.
David Flynn is attending IDF/Spring in Beijing as a guest of Intel.