In the past several years we’ve seen many companies offer up their vision of The Next Big Thing in personal computing. The goal to get PCs increasingly portable is one admirable attempt but any drastic changes to the interface status quo tend to be met with consumer resistance. Screens and keyboards can only get so small before they become cute but useless novelties.
One exception is netbooks, the currently most compelling segment of portable personal computing. These little-brother laptops are rapidly cannibalizing more conventional computing platforms. Their attributes of low cost and high portability combined with a reasonable attempt to maintain usable interface real estate has contributed to a truly impressive success story.
But there’s another niche with supposed potential that’s also gaining favor with the press: Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs. Intel coined the term to describe a handheld computer not quite phone, not quite laptop or netbook, but their definition is being co-opted to describe a broader array of products. Enter Apple and rumors that they are preparing their own assault on this mostly virgin territory. In this article plenty is said about Apple’s supposed designs on this space, along with involvement by Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon and of course Intel, but curiously missing is mention of the company that essentially created this platform:
That’s right, the Finnish company that once brought you rubber boots, tires and more recently sexy mobile phones introduced the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet in mid 2005 to very little fanfare. The small but powerful touchscreen device caught on with early adopters and especially the Linux crowd (due to its Maemo operating system) but never really enthralled the public at large. Nokia later acknowledged this to be part of a methodical strategy, where successive releases of products in this line would exhibit increasing abilities and support as the market was explored by the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer. The 770 was followed by the N800 and N810 (2 variants) and the next iteration is in the works.
I won’t hash over the various steps and missteps of Nokia in the development of this product line; my main motive in writing tonight was in reaction to the obvious neglect in the article. Are journalists just not doing their homework when covering this subject? Has Apple truly managed to convince the media that only their products matter? Did Nokia lose in the court of mass marketing by opting to move so conservatively into this nebulous space?
The answer will likely depend on the push Nokia provides the next tablet, and the effectiveness of Apple’s enviable public relations machine… and there’s more certainty around the latter than the former. Rumor also has it that Nokia is readying its own netbook. Slow economy notwithstanding, 2009 may turn out to be an interesting year for portable computing…