An onslaught of Internet-access devices is set to hit the UK this year, according to Intel.
The Intel Atom processor has proved its mettle in netbooks, and is set to do the same in mobile internet access devices, the processor company claimed. More than 50 Intel Atom-based devices are already available, of which at least 33 are MIDs, Intel said.
Intel had a stand at the Consumer Electronics Show dedicated to mobile internet devices running its Atom low-power processor and used it to showcase a wide variety of form factors for what it terms MIDs (mobile internet access devices). While one or two of the gadgets on show were familiar to us, most were not. That, however, is because the UK has not yet been a major launch territory for the devices, Intel said.
Korea, Japan, Italy and France have already seen a number of MIDs launch, explained Intel, either because the market and demand for such gadgets was already established or because mobile operators in those countries had adopted them.
All this is set to change as a wider rollout of Intel Atom-based MIDs takes place over the coming year, with the UK targeted as one of the next countries to be offered such devices.
Such devices are handheld units that look like oversized PDAs or smartphones and are generally around the size of a portable games console. They offer anywhere internet access via 3G mobile broadband, Wi-Fi and, in some instances, WiMax. Most also have Bluetooth capabilities and have their SIM card - hence the interest from mobile phone operator.
Intel demonstrated touchscreen, keyboard-less MIDs in the shape of the Trigem LLUON Mobbit PS400 as well as models with either limited hardware buttons on their front or, as in the case of the SFR M!PC, slide-out keyboards hidden by the screen. The latter has a 5GB SSD (solid state disk) memory while the Trigem model has a 4.8in widescreen display and a 30GB hard disk drive inside.
The distinguishing factor for such devices, explained Intel's spokesman, is whether they are designed for video playback and mobile entertainment use or primarily for their web access capabilities. The HDD models lend themselves towards video because of the significantly larger storage capacity. SSD drives are still very expensive to fit, so are typically offered in MIDs in 4GB and 5GB versions.
Intel demo-ed the Lenovo Ideapad MID which launched in China last year in time for the Olympics and had appropriate Beijing 2008 branding on its underside.
It also showed us MIDs from Panasonic and a particularly attractive, slimline Aigo model and demonstrated the web access capabilities of the Clarion MiND. This model is already available in the US and is set for an international rollout in the coming months. The Clarion MiND was announced at last year's CES Convention and was one of the first such devices to get a commercial launch. As well as offering web access on the move, it can be used as a satellite navigation device and has an integrated GPS receiver.
Despite having a 4GB SSD rather than a hard disk drive, it's a fairly chunky, heavy device with a 5in (800x480-pixel) screen. Its Intel Atom CPU is paired with just 256MB of DRAM.
We used its integrated Google search and Google Maps to look up rollercoasters in the Las Vegas area and received almost instant map and address results for hotels and complexes in the area. The Clarion MiND can be docked for use as a navigaton device in a car. It also acts as a basic digital camera, an MP3 player and can be used to show video clips locally or at sites such as YouTube.
Intel said one of the next developments with MIDs will be third-party applications that enable users to customise their gadgetry, much like an Apple iPhone or a Google Android handset. Skype has already written a compatible application, for example, while SFR has already added extra gadget-like functions to the device it sells in France.