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The same but smaller

24/8/08

Big things are vulgar. Things of beauty are delicate and petite. Channel not Bvlgari, Dior not Versace. The best MP3 player isn’t the one that sounds best but the one which packs the most memory into the smallest space.

This is happening to the internet. It’s being packed into smaller spaces. The Mobile Internet Device, things like the iPhone and the Asus EEE. In the very middle ground we have the HTC Shift. Something that is bigger and heavier than handbag sized but Smaller than briefcase.

The UMPC in Microsoft terms or MID, I wrote about it a while ago when I praised the Pogo.

Expansys HTC Touch Diamond advert

Now it seems that two very serious players are getting very serious about the space. ARM and Intel. Both see the MID as the device we’ll all want.

It’s true that the iPhone and Eee have been huge hits. They have met an unfulfilled need, the thing every product designer lusts after. Sometimes like the Eee it’s surprise hit. Sometimes it gets pulled like the Palm folio and sometime they make a complete Xelibri of it.

What I think will happen with the mobile internet device is what happened at the birth of the laptop computer:

After the evolution from computers that just had a handle on them and looked like sewing machines we got the first laptops. Things that could run on batteries and that you could use in business class on the ‘plane. One manufacturer dominated. Toshiba had 65% of the market. As Keynesian (no relation, at least I don’t think so) economics teaches us, where there is a super-normal profit other players rush in to introduce competition. This is what happened in the laptop market. A rash of PC manufacturers rushed to by the same screens and processors. Dozens of them from Compaq to Philips to Librex.  Each of them rolled out their Harvard Graphics pie charts and said that they were going to have 20% of the market and that wasn’t unreasonable given the lack of competition – after all there was only Toshiba – and, switching to bar graphs with extrapolation – the growth of the market.

Two things were set to disappoint. One was that the initial rush of devices had started to fill the unmet need. There were only so many people who could afford computers at three times that of a desktop. And only a subset of them were prepared to carry something the size of a models make-up bag. So the bar graphs were wrong.

Even worse they might have been right about Toshiba’s share shrinking from 65% to 45% but that 20% had to be shared between the dozens of manufacturers. No-one got enough of it to be profitable.

It’s very hard to see that kind of writing on the wall when the N810, Eee and iPhone are sell out products. It’s even harder when the products are sexier and smaller than the ones that came before, but the lesson is there to be learned.

Links

Once upon a time someone decided that as everyone had a TV and a phone they should link the two together. This was called Prestel and it shut down 14 years ago. Last week Intel decided that as everyone had a TV and a phone they should link the two together. 

Is Motorola retreating to fortress America? The new boss of Motorola has come from Qualcomm. The new head of product used to be head of CDMA. How long before Motorola starts advocating Brew on GSM handsets.

It’s musical chairs at Nokia too with a move towards Internet service. I guess things like search.

Isn’t it interesting that a company which sells lots of reports to Motorola, but none to Sony Ericsson says that Motorola is through the worst but that Sony Ericsson is going to struggle.

You know how great it is to use the perspective mode in Google Earth. Now there is a GPS unit that does the same thing.


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