MIDs and Moblin. Where do we go now?

Updated on 16 October 2014 by

Yesterday’s news that Moblin V2 for MIDs is now delayed until 2010 has me thinking long and hard about what’s going to happen now. Have Intel put their MID plans to one side? Are they confident that Moblin V1 is enough for the current crop of devices? What will the OEMs think? Are they happy to refocus onto netbooks or are they simply waiting for Moorestown? Should I put UMPCPortal on ice and take a year’s holiday?

Moblin V2 is moving forward as planned and as far as I know, it will be ready for OEMs and distributors in Spring. It’s got an extremely high chance of success because most Linux distributors for netbooks have already signed up to use it. Ubuntu, Asianux, Xandros, Linpus. Novell, gOS, Mandriva, Pixart, S2C, Turoblinux have all publicly stated that they will use Moblin and even if only 10% of netbooks are going out of the door with Linux (I suspect it’s between 20 and 30% myself) then there’s a multi-million unit opportunity there. If the predictions are correct and 35 million netbooks ship next year then 3.5 million Linux desktops in one year will be one of the most successful Linux-based roll-outs yet. Given that Intel have hundreds of engineers working on it and have direct access to the people that designed the core hardware, they should be able to squeeze more from it than the average Linux distributor. There’s also a possibility to get that much needed app-store in there too. If Intel can create and manage that then there’s a revenue channel that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

While disappointing that MIDs are getting pushed to one side, it obviously makes sense that Intel focus on the netbooks. If Moblin becomes successful, it could increase it’s percentages and as XP fades away during 2010, it has a high chance of becoming the de-facto choice. If it gets good feedback, there’s every chance that percentages could rise even higher but in the meantime, what’s going to happen to MIDs?

Currently there are three distributors of Moblin for MIDs. Canonical (Ubuntu), Asianux (Midinux) and Wind River. Canonical are still working on Ubuntu MID with Moblin V1 and as we’re seeing updates filter through for the Compal-based MIDs, one assumes that Asianux are still working on it. As for WindRiver, it’s not clear at the moment what they are working on but at least there’s two major distributors working on MID products and there’s no reason to think that what they will produce will be second-rate just because they’re not using Moblin v2. In fact, even if V2 was on target for MIDs, it would still be late 2009 before anything would be available and then you’re getting into the Moorestown timeframe.

Aha, Moorestown. Now there’s a thought. What if Intel are happy to re-position Menlow as a netbook platform and to put effort into promoting it that way. That would make sense apart from the glaringly obvious problem that their own Menlow distribution doesn’t currently support the Menlow platform. If that’s fixed in a short timeframe though then it might make sense to re-position. By offering Menlow it gives OEMs the chance to choose from low-end netbooks with big battery life (that can compete with the incoming ARM-based low-end Linux-based netbooks) or to go with slim and light netbooks with high-end video support. Given that Windows 7 runs well on this platform too, the 1.8Ghz (actually, lets assume they push out a dual-core 2.0Ghz version) could hit the mark quite well for the consumer. By repositioning Menlow, Intel are then able to separate Moorestown as a MID platform and avoid any confusion. Moorestown is pocket-focused and coming in 2010. If OEM’s aren’t reacting to the Menlow platform for MIDs then to squeeze everything they can from the netbook market makes total sense.

There are a few other options though. The first is Android. From day 1, Android has been positioned as a CPU agnostic platform and recently we’ve started to see X86 ports and even a team claiming that Android has a ‘MID’ setting.

…we discovered that Android already has two product “policies” in its code. Product policies are operating system directions aimed at specific uses. The two policies are for 1) phones and 2) mobile internet devices, or MID for short. MID is Intel’s name for ‘mobile internet devices,’ which include devices like the Asus netbook…[Source: Venturebeat]

With Intel already in the OHA, it wouldn’t do them any harm if someone came out with an uber-pda, web tablet, PND or even productivity device based on Android and Intel. There are big rivers to cross with Android (display drivers is the main one) but it’s not technically impossible and from a marketing perspective could make for a very interesting discussion when you consider the brand power there.

The other option is XP. Drivers are now available for the Menlow platform and it’s running acceptably in most cases. Some graphics issues remain but there are already products shipping that lay XP over Menlow. Viliv have even gone one step further with their products and have implemented a user interface overlay which helps navigation between applications. It also smartens-up what is becoming a boring UI on XP. Given that Microsoft appears to be open to special licensing for XP and that early adopters are prepared to pay more for these devices, this would be an easy route to take. Strangely enough, it would turn MIDs into UMPCs in most cases and we’d be in a position where the Origami dream of 2006 would be realised with low-cost, long battery life devices.

The final option is just to let MIDs take their path and to let the OEMs decide. It’s an option, but not one I’d be interested in taking if I was Intel. They have a platform that is perfect for many mid-tier gadgets and there’s competition out there from ARM. Personal navigation, personal HD media players, web tablets, ebook readers, carPCs and other niche but stable markets make up millions of sales per year so there’s a big opportunity there. The middle-ground of 4-5" gadgets isn’t going away because in some cases there is simply no substitute for screen size. It’s a good opportunity to get products in to markets that are currently dominated by ARM so it makes sense to use it as a stepping-stone.

We have three chances to get indicators about Intel’s MID plans in the next three months so the direction will become clearer. Firstly there’s MWC which starts on Feb 16th. According to BusinessWeek, "Intel plans to announce new partners in February at a mobile technology conference in Barcelona, Spain" so we can expect some information there. Considering that MWC is largely about phones, it will be interesting to see why they’ve chosen MWC for the announcement. Secondly, there’s CeBIT in March. We’re planning to meet up with Intel and find out exactly what’s going on. We’ll also have a chance to talk to OEMs to find out what they think and what they’re hearing through their connections. Lastly, and most importantly, there’s the Intel Developers Forum which will take place in Beijing in the beginning of April. Although the event has been reduced down to 1-day, we should get information about the status of Moorestown.

I don’t think anyone can deny that netbooks are the focus of the day. It’s obviously sad to see new technologies stalled as a result but shareholders come first and when your profits drop 90%, you have to take drastic measures. Intel may lose some advantage by re-focusing but it doesn’t mean the mobile Internet market will go away. We’re already seeing products from many categories moving into the mobile Internet space and many of them aren’t Intel-powered. Archos have a ‘MID’ in their 5. Many would say that the iPhone is already the best MID on the planet. Mozilla is getting ready to launch Fennec, the high-end mobile browser on Windows Mobile. Palm has announced their WebOS along with a very powerful smartphone and Ti, Nvidia and Qualcomm are all preparing platforms that can be used for full, fast Internet-connected devices. The definition of MID might change or, as has largely happened with the acronym ‘UMPC’ it might go away all together but I don’t think that anyone could honestly say that netbooks are going to stall the progress of getting ultra mobile Internet-connected devices in as many hands as possible. Whatever they’re called, we’ll still be here to report on them and something tells me that we won’t need to wait long either. UMPCPortal on ice? Never!

23 Comments For This Post

  1. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    Posted a new article: MIDs and Moblin. Where do we go now? http://www.umpcportal.com/?p=5375

  2. John says:

    Personally, for the near term, on ARM, I’d go with Maemo. It’s the most polished Mobile Linux platform I’ve seen. Actually, the most polished (any category) Linux platform, really.

    On Intel, I bet you’d spend less effort porting Maemo to Intel processors than you’d spend trying to fill in the gaps on Ubuntu’s mobile offerings. But, in the long run, I think Ubuntu will be better (if for no other reason than not being heavily tied to a single hardware vendor).

    The other option is: throw in with Android, and put effort into Android’s shortcomings. We know it can run on Intel, and we know it can run on devices bigger than phones (someone had it running on an EeePC). It needs access to non-mobile versions of Google’s apps, and a few other things (they’re not the dumbest version of the mobile apps, but I think the same as the iPhone version of Google’s mobile apps, somewhat in the middle between WAP and Real). But that choice leaves you without access to the underlying Linux layer. Personally, I think that’s fine. I don’t miss that aspect of my N810, yet I thought I would.

    The ideal pie in the sky might be if Maemo and Ubuntu somehow merged (in a way that preserves Ubuntu’s more vendor neutral position), and the combined Nokia/Canonical team(s) ported Dalvik/Android-Runtime on top of their combined mobile linux platform. But that’s kind of pie in the sky.

    If you want real linux, and not being limited to mobile versions of some web pages, then for the near term, I’d go with Maemo and work toward Ubuntu.

    If you realize that you don’t really need that, that your mobile device can be a little more limited in terms of access to the deeper layers, I’d look at Android for the near and long terms.

    If I was a device maker, I’d probably go with: try to push Google to fill in a few small gaps in Android (some missing Gmail features; some missing Google Reader features; missing Google Docs features; SSH+VNC support; some missing IM features; SyncML clients for Contacts, Calendar, Bookmarks, and Notes; and for a non-phone device I’d want it to have Bluetooth DUN, PAN, and USB tethering), and go with that as my primary OS for devices with displays smaller than 10″. The Gmail/Reader/Docs thing might be solved by just having a non-mobile version of the Android browser (the version of the Google Apps you get might be purely a matter of what the browser is identifying itself as, so having a full instance of Chrome on Android might give you full Gmail capabilities, for example … but then you probably lose the finger friendliness … which is why I think Google really needs to extend the feature sets of the Android/iPhone versions of their Apps). I would also try to work with the Maemo team (that part of it that is outside of Nokia) to get Maemo on my devices, and try to work with Google wrt to making a “Android for Linux” environment so that my more sophisticated users could have the option of a more powerful environment (low end users get Android, high end users get Maemo+Dalvik).

  3. TDFS says:

    Wow, great news, thanks a lot Intel!
    Thanks Intel for delaying Moblin V2 MID to 2010, you customer can wait
    Thanks hardware makers for not releasing updated driver for new GNU/Linux kernel versions, your customers can wait
    Thanks BenQ for getting the bugs I’ve found in BenQ MID S6 and for telling me to wait. Yes, guys, your customers can wait
    Thanks BenQ for selling BenQ MID S6 running beta software

  4. fab says:

    thanks for pointing these “issues” otherwise i would have done that.

    it’s really absurd how many customers are used as beta testers for device they have to PAY!

    i will ask intel and all the producers to give me a free device to test their software. unfortunately as of today i am NOT going to buy anything anymore. 500 euros for a device which is useless is not what i want

  5. fab says:

    oh and Steve! i can clearly see you’re frustrated! i think it’s the longest article you wrote until now! am joining you in the frustration

  6. TDFS says:

    Yes, it is extremely frustrating. Customers used as beta testers, as if money would be a joke!
    My BenQ MID S6 was paid 429 euro for what? It runs Midinux that does not use any public repository so there is no known way to install third party software or software from other distributions. They also had the bad idea of developing a front end for included softwares like firefox and they implemented maybe 20% of firefox features. And which version of firefox did they use? Firefox 3 beta 5!!! *BETA*!!!!! and I guess that on a Mobile *INTERNET* Device, the browser is quite important!
    Of course let’s not forget that you can play near ten different video codecs…. but if they are in an avi file… bye bye, black screen!

    Incredible! It’s ridiculous and it’s time to say this.
    People spend their money for this products!
    I’m sorry but I don’t think this is the right way to behave. Definitely not the right way!

  7. CharlesT says:

    “Should I put UMPCPortal on ice and take a year’s holiday?”

    I believe, on the contrary, that 2009/2010 will be defining years for UMPC’s, as a plethora of new processors for mobile devices will become available (Intel’s N280 and Moorestown, ARM’s Cortex 8 and 9 (TI’s OMAP), Via’s Isaiah (Nano). These processors will bring low-end netbook-like performance to pocket-size platforms, with battery consumption similar to today’s smartphones. It will be interesting to discover the strength and weaknesses of each of these processors for the mobile world.

    And what will be the best OS to use this new-found power? Android, Maemo, WebOS? What about Win7 – which apparently performs very well on N270-based netbooks with 1G Ram; could WinMO7 actually be Win7 for small touch screens?. That promises to be another interesting battle to watch!

    Finally, more network operators are deploying 3G (and 3G+) and we should start to see significant 4G (LTE) deployments this year (with probable delays in the US with the possible postponement of the switch over to DTV). 4G will meld voice and data traffic onto the same communications infrastructure; this will open the door to new service plans where there is no distinction between voice and data.

    And cloud computing will bring the motivation to redefine the mobile computing space at all the levels I have mentioned above.

    The stage is set for some very chaotic and creative times for the mobile computing space (and the computing space as a whole). And I believe that all the elements are being brought in place to finally bring UMPC’s to the masses – “pursable”/pocketable devices that exist between cell phones and small netbooks that can provide enough computing power to replace a PC while on the move – and indeed for some to be their PC (just dock it to a full keyboard & large screen)!

    Today’s smartphone integrates at the hardware level one’s cell phone, camera, MP3 player, MP4 player, GPS, SMS, email and net browsing (did I forget anything?). Tomorrow’s UMPC (I hate that term) will add to that integration of these functions at the information level, along with easier means to “cloud compute”.

    MSI triggered the netbook phenomena which brought highly portable laptops to the masses. Maybe Palm’s Pre will trigger the age of the true Personal Computer!

    So, when you say: “Should I put UMPCPortal on ice and take a year’s holiday?” If you do, you’re going to miss all the fun!

  8. chippy says:

    Gotcha!
    You didnt read the whole article did you.
    2/10 Review last para.
    ;-)

  9. Mike Cane says:

    Sorry, but keep dreaming about Linux gaining acceptance. Asus dropped it. Someone I know who bought an Acer with Linux returned it for XP. Linux is for geeks, period. People want apps they know and an easy way to install them.

    The only time Linux succeeds is when a company like Palm covers it with a coating of their UI and opens that layer open to devs.

    You’ll have MIDs this year: one from Apple, one from Palm.

    Oh, I can hear the strangled screams from jkk in Finland already!

  10. fab says:

    we don’t dream, we act. you keep your 10+ year old OS and try to define usability on a 4.8″ with XP… cheers.

    linux is not about a better OS than MS or Apple, but it’s a choice you make and it’s pure individualism and flexibility. if you don’t get that spirit, you don’t have to define it as something bad.

  11. anon says:

    Linux is an option for a company to do something special with. If they don’t want to just make the hardware and leave the rest for MS, it’s just about their only option in addition to Android. Choosing linux requires massive investment of course and support for the hardware from someone like Intel.

    If a company chose to do something with Moblin for example, concentrated on the usability and made a finished product with Apple-level quality and feel… well, customers wouldn’t care if the OS on their MID was running linux. Do YOU notice if your favourite sites you use with your browser run on Apache?

  12. EC says:

    fab,

    We kind of touched on this in another post already but..

    XP if that’s what you’re talking about when you say “10+” was released in Oct of 2001, that would make it 7+ if you want to be accurate :)

    While I agree with you from a certain aspect, it’s not really how old or not these OS’ are, in fact that in essence could be used to defend it as a reliable, tested and matured OS, no?

    Now just to take an example Windows Mobile including the 6.1 editions, are just as “UN-user-friendly” as the PPC 2000 OS was, since you’re really talking about UI and usability and not about the OS as such. Still the WM6.1 is put and used by a huge number of Mobile devices today.

    Not to mention the return (yes RETURN) of the WinCE in various PMPs, GPS, Netbooks and also Mobile Phones (Meizu M8 to mention one).

    I’m not sure what you mean by the rest of your comment, choice and pure individualism, but I have a feeling it would go under Mike’s “heading”: “Linux is for geeks, period.”
    The mass market of a device be in iPhone be it MID won’t chose their OS or device based on those criteria, but on how useable and easy to use it is.

    So that goes very much into what you are saying “define usability on a 4.8″ with XP”, but I’d like to differ on this subject because while your statement is very correct the Linux you see out there are just as hard to deal with on a small screen as XP, it is only now that we start to see these various “evolutions” of Linux that makes it more user friendly on them.

    Bottom line is you’re really talking about UI and not OS, so it is only a question if MS will bring out an MID UI like the Windows Tablet edition were for tablets, or if we will have to rely on 3rd party SW developer, just like there are several of UIs for CarPC’s if you’re at all following that market. That market already has UIs that make Windows fully useable with one finger on a 4-7″ screen:

  13. EC says:

    http://www.fluxmedia.net/

  14. EC says:

    >You’ll have MIDs this year: one from Apple, one from Palm.

    Mike, is there any way I can hold you to this?

    I want an Apple pocketable MID with keyboard, if nothing else to upset JKK, nah just kidding jokes aside, seriously! I’ve been waiting for that now for ages!

  15. animatio says:

    found this one ….. “Linux eeePC used for the car Atmail server, SMTP and Web proxy (on the go in the australien backcountry)”
    Ben Duncan, the founder of Atmail has embarked on a 6 month journey around the entire of Australia, in a specially modified 4WD Land Rover to demonstrate the ability to work online and maintain a virtual presence using the latest technologies.

    the story .. the blog: http://atmail.com/blog/2009/atmail-mobile-office-hits-the-road/

  16. admin says:

    Thanks Animato.

  17. Al says:

    I see no real surprises to me as the issues center around the form factors not being easy and prefered type for most people. UMPC’s are a great technology in that they have proven a full PC OS can be pocket size. But what all of the UMPC market forgot was that a full PC OS is not functional for most people with pen input and definately not thumb input either.

    MIDS were too close to powerful PDA/cell phones so that to me as a clear looser. Some started to get more power like a UMPC but they still suffered the same fate due to no keyboard. Thumb keys are not keyboards!

    The clear interest in netbooks shows that just like the laptops which sell over 115 million a year, everyone prefers a computer to have touch type keyboard input.

    UMPC’s or MIDS whatever you want to label them can be a success but only if they create a form factor that meets a demand that is more mainstream. Mobile laptops and netbooks with full size touch type keyboards will always be the majority but there is room for a pocket size computer that has a touch type keyboard input. Something like a modern Psion 5mx or HP Jornada 720 would sell at least 2-10 million a year if it had full Windows OS.

    A pocket size computer that will fit in a jacket pocket that is also as large as possible given that size limit when folded will be popular for the more mobile business crowd.

    No matter what features you put or even lowering the price any small computer that is relying on pen input or thumb input will never have much demand. I am still amazed that after all these decades of laptops that NEVER HAS ANYONE CREATED A POCKET SIZE VERSION WITH A TOUCH TYPE KEYBOARD. WHEN I REFER TO POCKET SIZE I MEAN THE LARGER INSIDE COAT POCKETS THAT CAN TAKE ABOUT A MAX OF 7.5″ X 4.2″ X 1.3″ ROUGHLY. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN SUCH A DEVICE BUILT YET THAT TO ME IS THE NATURAL EVOLUTION OF A LAPTOP NOT SOMETHING WITHOUT A NORMAL KEYBOARD.

  18. CharlesT says:

    Somehow, I missed the last paragraph on the first read!

    BTW, here’s another indication that the “UMPC” (I still hate that term – how about calling it the Mobile PC – which I propose as the new name for your podcasts) is coming of age and may become one’s only computing platform: Microsoft’s take on a docking station for mobile devices: http://www.wmexperts.com/microsoft-considering-turning-your-phone-full-pc

  19. animatio says:

    might be interesting to follow ….
    “Asus patent shows plans for a MID with slide-up, tilting display”
    via: http://www.electronicpulp.net/2009/01/31/asus-patent-shows-plans-for-a-mid-with-slide-up-tilting-display/

  20. Sondra Arroyo says:

    MIDs and Moblin. Where do we go now? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile… http://tinyurl.com/ygleqmg

  21. Poppy Scott says:

    some of the mp4 players i own are made in China, they are good too.”~.

  22. Summer Lewis says:

    me and my sister both have mp4 players that are always on our pockets.”*-

  23. Diego Gray says:

    i am looking for a really inexpensive mp4 player, which one do you suggest?-‘-

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