Their form factor and abilities to surf the Web will differentiate MIDs (mobile Internet device) from mobile phones, the competing device category with which MIDs are often compared, according to market analysts.
Last year, Intel predicted that compelling apps would ensure the adoption of MIDs and to this end, the chipmaker said it would focus on cultivating a software developer community.
But, whether this trend will rings true remains to be seen. Also, the jury appears to still be out on how MIDs should be defined.
An In-Stat analyst last year described the device category as touchscreen handheld netbooks that do not contain keyboards.
Angela McIntyre, Gartner research director for client computing told ZDNet Asia that MIDs are" an emerging category of pocketable electronic devices", with wireless Internet connectivity and full Internet browsing capability.
"MIDs will not be a separate consumer electronics category, but instead will evolve out of existing product categories such as smartphones, enhanced phones, portable media players (PMP), video game handhelds and portable navigation devices (PND)," said McIntyre in an e-mail interview.
Another analyst, TechMarketView's chairman Richard Holway, defined MIDs to include "devices that can be used to access the Internet while on the move, as opposed to permanently on your desk". This encompasses all devices ranging from smartphones to laptops, Holway said in an e-mail.
Functionality to differentiate MIDs
That said, analysts agreed that MID functionality--and not the apps they carry--would determine their success in the consumer market.
Holway said the emergence of cloud computing would prompt the convergence of apps running across a user's various interfaces, from desktop to mobiles. The ability of the device to work well with cloud-based apps will be important to MIDs' role within the collection of devices a user might carry, he said.
Gartner's McIntyre said MIDs need to be able to render Web sites as well as larger devices such as PCs. The iPhone, for instance, qualifies as an MID because of its ability to surf the "traditional" Web, and not simply mobile versions of the Web, she said.
She said handhelds that are only capable of limited Web browsing, using their Internet connectivity to pull specific information are, therefore, not MIDs.
Another differentiator for such devices is the combination of their ability to support surfing on a smaller form factor, McIntyre noted. Social networking is a leading use for MIDs so the "pocketable size" of an MID--compared to netbooks--will enable users to remain connected while on the move. It is this portability, instead of the applications, that differentiates the devices, she added.
"Mini-notebooks have a screen size larger than 5 inches by Gartner's definitions, whereas MIDs have a screen size typically from 3 to 5 inches," she said.
Hardware vendors have also focused on other aspects of MID design, in hopes of differentiating the devices. A BenQ spokesperson last year said the company would focus on usability to break the "entry barrier" to bring MIDs to the masses.
McIntyre said Gartner expects this device segment, excluding mobile phone-capable MIDs, to grow from 39 million units shipped in 2010 to 75 million sets in 2013.