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Technology CompaniesIntelIntel provides more details on Mobile Internet Devices plan

Intel provides more details on Mobile Internet Devices plan

I’ve have an industry rule: Watch where Intel goes. So often where Intel goes, so does the industry.

It makes sense. Intel provides the basic circuitry and know how on how to build the many devices we use. We have to follow where they go. Yes, there’s competition, but Intel is the predominant force that sets the path that we can practically follow.

So with this rule in hand, I watched a webcast of Intel’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Ultra Mobility Group’s IDF presentation yesterday.

Much of the webcast discusses Intel’s next two generation of mobile-focused technologies: Menlow and MoorseTown. Both are lower power X86 technology platforms. Both will enable even smaller mobile devices.

MenlowDevices.png
[Menlow devices about to become available]

That’s good news. Intel hasn’t had a very good selection of very low power devices that live up to the dreams and aspirations of UMPC owners. It’s now getting there.

The news for those that follow the UMPC platform may signal a bumpy road ahead though.

Intel is squarely marketing its platforms as a Mobile Internet Device, not a UMPC–even though they toss in UMPC support every now and then. It looks to me like Intel is moving its marketing might away from the UMPC. That’s very unfortunate for those that develop and support this platform. Now some could argue that Intel hasn’t done all that much to advocate the UMPC anyway. As a software developer, that would be my opinion. Outside of announcing the UMPC before Microsoft and providing some sneak peeks as various reference designs, I’m not sure what else Intel is doing in terms of UMPC evangelism. I’ve been at Intel events where the people don’t even know one lick about UMPCs, other than some group in Intel works on them. Then again, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

Anyway, now Intel’s marketing effort for the UMPC is making more sense–it’s all about the MID. Now in some respects, what’s the difference between a MID and a UMPC? Maybe they’re a little smaller, but other than that we’re talking about very similar devices. In fact, this Moorsetown-enabled MID mockup sure looks a lot like the Haiku device Bill Gates was showing around as the future of the UMPC as well as a little iPhone splashed in.

MoorestownMID.png

So why aren’t these devices called UMPCs? Yes, many are smaller. Here’s why: Vista isn’t going to be running on the first generation ones. Why not? Vista is too big and expensive for devices like this where the no-brainer goal should be to drive down costs and yield the best experience. Instead Intel is turning to Linux.

Normally, I’d say no biggy. There’s plenty of room in the market for multiple types of devices running different platforms. But here’s the thing: Microsoft has no OS for these devices that can compete at the Linux level. Zippo. And as a developer that’s been developing for Microsoft’s Tablet PCs and UMPCs this is a big deal.

Yes, I expect someone will get a Vista version of one of these devices running and wave it around on stage maybe at CES maybe six months later (Moorestown should be minimally sufficient with its 16GB spec and processing might), but I’m going to be wondering properly so if Vista is not the best choice for these devices?

The real bummer here is that Windows XP probably would scale right for these devices (in terms of footprint and cost)–outside of teaks to the Shell and the various desktop-sized dialog boxes sprinkled throughout the OS. But Microsoft has turned all its attention to Vista and XP’s days are numbered. So XP isn’t going to get a MID-slash-UMPC-sized refresh. It’s a shame for Microsoft developers.

It’s time to dust off your C/C++ code. For MIDs it’s going to be a Linux world–at least in the short term.

Now there is some hope for Microsoft-focused technologies. And that comes from Novell. Maybe, just maybe, Mono will have a small enough footprint. And in terms of Silverlight technologies, maybe, just maybe Moonlight will be up to par. However, who knows.

There’s another possible future here. Intel may only half-heartedly promote this new platform. And if the OEMs are left to their lack-luster design ideas as they have shown a proclivity for doing over the last few years, then MIDs probably will be outshone by iPods and iPhones and similar devices. And so the MIDs will fade leaving room on store shelves and in time to get Vista even better on these lower power devices.

I also noticed that in all the live demos people were using styluses and that indicates to me resistive displays. That’s not up to par with the current market expectations. Think capacitive touch. Think gestures. Don’t assume that everything is going to be touch like in an old-style POS or Kiosk. Can Linux be tuned fast enough to create the kind of rich experiences that people like me now expect? Give anyone an iPhone or an iPod touch and they won’t want to go back. Sorry folks. I didn’t see anything on stage that indicated that Intel or the Ubuntu representative understood this.

So anyway, this is going to be an interesting time. Intel is clearly driving power consumption down and expects many low-end devices with small drives and limited screen real-estate. We’ll see if this is what the consumers want or if they want more power in their hands.

Loren
Lorenhttp://www.lorenheiny.com
Loren Heiny (1961 - 2010) was a software developer and author of several computer language textbooks. He graduated from Arizona State University in computer science. His first love was robotics.

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