The future of mobile internet devices

Mobility requirements

So, what should we be looking for in a processor designed to power a MID? In a sense, it's a bit early to come up with a proper answer, since MIDs have yet to appear in any number and the platform will undoubtedly evolve in the early days as it becomes established in the marketplace. Even so, we took the opportunity to ask the three protagonists what they considered to be the key requirements of a MID processor.

According to Intel, a MID processor needs to be powerful, compatible and frugal in its power consumption. Performance is required to provide the user with an Internet experience in its entirety which, according to Kedia, is "rich, dynamic, immediate, interactive, increasingly user-generated and fast."

To achieve this, the processor must be fully compatible with Internet technologies, including support for the wide range of codecs such as Adobe Flash, plug-ins such as JavaScript, media players and web technologies such as AJAX and XML. Kedia also stressed dramatically low power consumption, a small form factor and a long battery life. Atom processors, it was unsurprisingly suggested, strike a good balance across these three broad requirements.

VIA also saw a need for balance between the processor's power consumption and its ability to provide enough raw performance for a satisfying user experience. For Brown, however, the Internet experience is only the start. VIA also anticipates a requirement for a high standard of media playback and, in the case of business users, the ability to use the standard office applications familiar from the desktop PC environment.

Predictably enough, ARM also cited performance and power consumption as the key features. Performance should enable Internet access, multimedia applications including 3D graphics and HD playback and productivity solutions, while the level of power consumption should permit a full day of use. Ideally, power-use in standby should allow for a battery life measured in days rather than hours.

Laptop meets smartphone

In many ways, a MID could be thought of as occupying the middle ground between a laptop and a smartphone. So it's perhaps not surprising that two of the main suppliers of processors for MIDs have interests in traditional markets at these two extremes. So which approach is likely to be more relevant to the newly-emerging platform – Intel's PC-centric background or ARM's low-power mobile emphasis? We asked each manufacturer to say why they believed their traditional market is better suited to providing successful MID processors.

Intel addressed the question by reiterating the view that performance and compatibility are essential. "We believe that shrinking the x86 processor to reduce power and size while maintaining high performance and software compatibility is the optimal way to bring the Internet to pocketable devices," said Kedia. Intel's design and architecture, 45nm process and pioneering work in power management were all quoted as key strengths in this respect.

Interestingly, Morris didn't altogether agree with our analysis that ARM would consider its own background in low-power portable devices as more suited to addressing the needs of a MID. "ARM thinks companies coming from both markets will be able to define and develop products," he said.

As evidence for this stance, he indicated that ARM is finding that the major OEMs are not so hung-up as they once were over the particular processor in a device, but care more about whether the platform provides a good mobile Internet experience. "An x86 processor is not required for computing tasks," he said. "This is enabling companies to think beyond one or two partners, which bodes well for ARM because our mobile partners can expand their business while new ARM partners from the laptop market are set free to develop cool new products and technology."