Feb 22 AT 5:12 PM Brian Stringfellow 7 Comments

Smartphone input/output options will kill today’s MID and tablet

The smartphone is small, inconspicuous, and is always with us. It does pretty much everything we need while we are away from the big display and fast processor at home or work. Adding a MID (mobile Internet devices) or a larger tablet would be nice, but for smartphone owners, these are purely luxury items. They don’t add enough value to justify the price.

MIDs: 5 to 7 inches

Traditionally, MIDs have had only WiFi connectivity, but are now being designed with GSM/CDMA radios to allow data/voice plans with wireless carriers, which will help the product category in a big way. AT&T’s recent announcement of “$30 per month for data only” helped shed light on the fact that one does not have to pay for a voice plan to obtain data service. In fact, the big four US carriers all offer data-only plans. (read Ian Wheat’s article on the subject)

While Dell’s Mini 5 has definite appeal and is getting plenty of coverage prior to launching, only time will tell how well it will be received. At the small end of the MID size scale, it may still be a little too big for the average person to carry around as a phone, hence the new MID product category. For many smartphone users however, it may be the perfect form factor delivering a quality video experience, book reading functionality, easy web browsing, and free navigation with Google Maps Navigation.

Other products in this category continue to appear, but none has yet to really take control of the market. So far, there has been too much overlap with current smartphones with nothing differentiating them other than size. Fortunately however, MIDs with 3G connectivity (including the Mini 5) can potentially be used as an inexpensive primary device as calls can be placed using a VOIP app. (read more about $30 unlimited voice, data, text plans)  For personal safety and security, users can always call 911 since it is a cellular device with a traditional phone dialer, regardless of any carrier agreement.

Tablets: 7 to 10 inches

The first Tablet PC was introduced in 2001, but none has ever attracted any mass appeal. Many companies are hoping to change this, of course. Some, based on Windows 7, come with the ‘full OS’ experience, Atom processor and associated power requirements. Some will have ARM-based processors and mobile operating systems like Android and other Linux-based OS’s. And then there is Apple’s product based on the iPhone.

News is swirling about the iPad soon becoming available for pre-order. Who and how many will be ordering is anyone’s guess. I will not be on the list and can only think of two people I know who would be legitimate candidates. One is my mother-in-law who travels quite a bit and the other is a lady about the same age who wants internet access when traveling. Neither of them has a smartphone, neither is technically savvy, and the 10″ form factor is attractive to them (larger font for easier reading).

As tablets become cheaper, more powerful and connected, they will replace laptops and the third product category will disappear. Until then, they will be a niche device for book readers, gamers, travelers, product reviewers and early adopters.

More immediately, what we really need are better spec’d smartphones with slightly larger displays (4.2″ as seen in HTC’s HD2) and higher resolution, say 1024 pixels wide (LG’s GW990). With the rumored 1.5 GHz processors and Adobe Flash capabilities coming to Android the first half of this year, the race is on to deliver a device that combines these cutting edge features and stands out from the crowd.

This leads us back to the iPad/iPhone. We know Flash is out of the question for now, but when the resolution of the iPad (1024×768) was announced, it begged the question as to whether the next iPhone might follow suit. It would head off any talk about fragmentation and put Apple out in front again in terms of resolution after lagging behind the last year or two. Not much has been written on this so far, but it wouldn’t be too surprising.

With LTE/Wimax, Hi-Res Super AMOLED displays, mobile OS’s with Flash, and faster processors consuming less power, there is less reason to carry something as large as a 10″ tablet. A friend recently shared an idea that I really like and it’s probably not a unique one. If a ‘smartphone’ could accept mouse/keyboard input and output DV/HDMI video to a full size display at its native resolution (1280, 1680, 1920 pixels wide), it would allow us to plug in at home or work and never miss a beat.

While traveling, a simple ($100-200) tablet-looking display without the expensive silicon could suffice. Picture a thinner iPad that is only an i/o device, a dumb terminal using the smartphone for processing and connectivity. In the car, there would be the ‘dash touch display’ and at a client presentation, there is the overhead or Pico projector.

Some of this may be off in the future, but the point being, why bother with a relatively expensive class of devices (>$300) that will be short-lived? Assuming everyone in the market for portable computing devices is already paying for cellular service, the most feature rich smartphone and laptop will more efficiently serve the majority and with more portability and greater capabilities. Smart phone input/output options will kill today’s MID and tablet as the tablet evolves into tomorrow’s laptop replacement.

[Image credit: TiPb]

Brian has an unhealthy fascination with high tech gadgets working in the information assurance business in San Diego. Outside of work, he is often found staring into the back side of a big camera at his kids' sporting events or perched at a keyboard researching the latest developments in information technology/security and consumer electronics, but has been known to beat on drums and ride a snowboard.

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  • http://Website Patrick O’Leary

    I don’t think notebooks (laptops) are going anywhere soon. I’m pretty sure I’d not have much luck programming on a tablet, and I’m pretty sure the same goes for people writing reports, etc. You probably will see more Toshiba-style touchscreen hybrids, though, and they’ll get thinner.

    • Brian Stringfellow


      I believe what we’ll see fairly soon is laptops morphing into tablets with accessory keyboards/mice – slim like the ipad, but powerful enough to do real work and view all available video (flash).


  • Filipe


    “A friend recently shared an idea that I really like and it’s probably not a unique one. If a ’smartphone’ could accept mouse/keyboard input and output DV/HDMI video to a full size display at its native resolution (1280, 1680, 1920 pixels wide), it would allow us to plug in at home or work and never miss a beat.”

    I kinda agree with your post in which you classify tablets as “tier 3″ devices that will be “short-lived”, since they are expected to evolve into smaller and hand-sized computers.

    The problem with the idea that a powerful smartphone should provide dock functionality and thus work with today typical “PC” I/O peripherals (mouse, keyboard, large monitor) is that *it is a mobile device in essence*.

    I mean, it’s built from scratch with mobile usability in mind (the “finger oriented” user interface, the OS touch model, misc mobile processing optimizations and stripped down/limited capabilities due do power requirements).

    Unless you plan to deliver two types of user interface models in a mobile device (one for the on-the-go activity, and another one to a dock working mode), that will not work very well IMHO. Imagine an android home screen on a 1920×1080 resolution, with a keyboard and a mouse on your desk.

    I know what you’re thinking, “the whole point of the idea is not feasible now, but in a short future, it may be”. With that, I agree.

    • Brian Stringfellow


      Thanks for the feedback, but would it be unreasonable in the near future for a mobile devices to attach to a larger touch screen for apps that demand it? Would it later be possible to launch an app or vm that resembles a traditional hi-res desktop environment for use with external peripherals?

      Again, I’m predicting the demise of the “tier 3″ devices as smartphones become more capable through the use of external touch displays (attach android handheld to back of cheap 10″ dummy slate or in-car touch screen) and as tomorrow’s tablets with full OS and wireless keyboards evolve to render today’s laptops (the 1.5″ clamshell) obsolete.

  • Brian Stringfellow

    “A laptop that simply flips its screen around to become a “tablet” is a laptop.”

    Ah, but if a bluetooth keyboard is connected to a tablet, is it also merely a laptop?

    I’m only predicting the demise of the third product category by way of the convergence of laptop and tablet since tablets will soon have the capability to replace laptops. I/O options will flourish, of course, and the 1.5 inch thick clamshell laptop will be termed a ‘luggable’.

  • http://Website The_Omega_Man

    Brian if we are only theorizing here, then sure it is possible for tablet style computing to replace the need for the traditional lap top. However, until these devices can run industrial strength applications on industrial strength OS platforms, I do not see this happening any time soon. Enterprise business users and students are the primary drivers for today’s lap top based computing technology. Current Cell phone capabilities and computing power have not yet met the level of capability that traditional computing platforms have. Some day they may, but many may not want to give up real movable keys, USB ports, large high speed memory and storage options, integrated CD/DVD RW drives, customization freedom, OS independence, and less risk of unintentional display damage during transport and some semblance of privacy that a clam shell type of display offers.

    I agree with the other poster, who wants to lug around all the extra required peripherals, just to get Laptop/netbook like functionality?

    Now what I would like to see, (assuming that we are still hypothesizing here) is a portable MID device that I could plug into a dock when I got home and have it link in with my home management/entertainment computing system for control of my home electronics and environment, controlled by voice commands or an AI like intelligent control system. When I leave, I want to plug it into my car’s dash dock (similar to the removable face radios in some car stereos) and have the same type of interface to the car’s computer systems/nav/climate control and entertainment systems. This is so it could automatically e-mail the dealer for any required maintenance and schedule an appointment. When at home, I could have started to watch a movie, told the MID to pause it, and to make it portable for continued viewing in the car’s entertainment system or on it’s own screen. When I get to the grocery store, my bags of MID automatically ordered groceries are there waiting for me to authorize payment. So I stop at Starbucks on the way home and my MID already e-mailed my Chai Tea order, ahead of me, so now I can just pay and sit with my MID and finish that movie!

    The same goes for personal travel, as long as I do not have any serious typing that I need to do. Give me a robust voice responsive system and now I am in business.

    Just sayin!

  • http://Website rick barreraz

    hehe nice discussion made me think it would be nice to have it all in the small size so imagine setting the smartphone on your desk that is against the wall, turning down the lights or closing the shades and pressing a button on the side of the smartphone that turns on the laser keyboard in front of you AND the pico projector on the other side of the smartphone turning your desk into your keyboard and the wall into your screen, mebe you buy a 30 inch projector screen and thumb tack it onto the wall so the picture looks nice. walah!