Tag Archives: MID

Use cases for Mobile Internet Devices

As an extension of a previous article on how to make Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) compelling, I have decided to start a series devoting individual articles to particular use cases, one per article.  I am using the broad term here because I’m not focusing on unique products or brands per se but rather the product type.  Of course, knowing Nokia mobile computers (formerly internet tablets) as I do, many of my examples will relate to them.  I welcome examples referencing competing products from readers.

I’m going to start with a use case that does not get a lot of attention but is near and dear to my analytical heart: mobile auditing and inspection in production, shipping or other operations.  I really think the devices have a great deal of untapped potential here!

So stay tuned, and if you have a use case you would like to see explored, feel free to mention it!

From mobile to modular

IBMs MetaPad concept

IBM's MetaPad concept

Back in 2007 I had what I thought at the time was a unique brainstorm in the area of computing and communications.  Noting the quickening convergence between PCs and cell phones, I suggested that the obvious next step would be to bridge the two in a way that had not yet been done: shrink the PC down to a credit-card sized contraption about 5 mm or so thick and encapsulate it in a format that allowed it to be plugged in, PC card style, into an array of device “skins”.  In essence, a core engine that could drive your cell phone, GPS device, netbook or even desktop PC.  The skin, or shell, would contain or connect to all of the audiovisual interfaces and the main power supply… although the engine would of course have to possess its own energy storage for transport between uses.

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Verizon kick-starting US WiFi?

There are two wireless broadband truisms that have proven unassailable here in the US:

  1. The promise of ubiquitous WiFi has failed, for the most part, to manifest;
  2. Market-restricting service providers fear ubiquitous WiFi

There’s a high correlation between those two axioms, and the result has been a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The largest US telecommunications companies, Verizon and AT&T, have struggled to fit wireless access into their business models (although AT&T has done better of late).  The concern, of course, revolves around monetization– once a widespread, reliable and easy-to-access WiFi infrastructure gained traction, smaller service providers would have the incentive and the means to compete with the bigger players… the latter of which appear to develop allergies to free markets once they reach critical mass.

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Purses and platforms

I last wrote about what companies could do to make large-screen Mobile Internet Devices (regardless of producer or actual name) more attractive to consumers.  To spare you having to read the epic piece, in summary my analysis is that everything comes down to the out-of-the-box experience.  Average users do not want to configure or code– at the most they want to install and go, with a ready path to any available installations.

When I say “large screen” note that I’m thinking 3 to maybe 6 inches diagonal.  Any less and it might as well be an MP3 player, any more and it might as well be a netbook or even touchscreen notebook.

I am constantly seeing a demand for such devices, particularly with uses such as ebook readers, portable internet, GPS, et al.  There are typically no complaints about the device size while it’s in use– the gripes come when transport between uses is the issue.

What hit home for me very recently, though, was that the MID transport issue is a problem for only one demographic:


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“It’s a cool-looking device… but what does it do?”

One of my internet tablet-toting buddies posted an editorial on why Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) have not yet taken off.  His points have been made before, here and there, but he ties the ends up nicely and I will not argue with the reasoning.  I do, however, want to take it a bit further and offer my own perspective.

My inner geek cannot understand why devices like Nokia internet tablets (one of the better prospects in this area) have not been more popular.  These little babies do it all.  What is not available out of the box is eagerly supplied by a dedicated-if-loose collection of coders who regularly buzz around maemo.org.  Thanks to this creative bunch the feature set of the tablets has been significantly expanded, including such niceties as LAN support and even alternative web browsers.  The potential of the tablets is their selling point.

But the everyday user side of me disputes that conclusion.  The average consumer doesn’t buy anything for its potential– they purchase something for what it can immediately do once the power is applied.  This is where the broad applicability of internet tablets and related devices has been, ironically, their marketing downfall.

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The Case of the Phantom Tablet

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.

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