Intel Splits from UMPC with Linux-based MID Portable

After over a year of having promoted what was widely perceived as an underpowered, limited, less-than-connective mobile computer platform, Intel this morning at its developer forum in Beijing took a route few expected: Rather than update the UMPC platform it had developed along with Microsoft, the technology company appears to be going it alone, producing a second, parallel mobile platform that just happens to include all the features UMPC missed - which include built-in WiFi, functional software, and embedded Linux.

Contrary to reports this morning which appeared to confirm early speculation that has since been contradicted, Intel is going ahead with plans for its new Mobile Internet Device (MID) specification, which will attempt to co-exist with UMPC on account of its being smaller.

But as Intel plans to present the new platform this week, based on documents obtained by BetaNews, the new handheld MID platform 1) will be much smaller, 2) should be more connective, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and digital TV, 3) should be more energy efficient, 4) may be less expensive, and 5) will be way cooler, in all the ways that count.

In stark opposition to the Origami advertising campaign of late 2005, which began by enticing customers with pictures of consumers dreamily using their UMPCs on picnics and safaris, amid the unanswered caption, "What am I?" this time Intel appears to be lifting all the curtains and clearing away all the smoke and mirrors, in a transparent and technically replete campaign.

It may lack some of the fun and excitement of Apple's iPhone, though it may end up incorporating some of the functionality Apple's loyal customers were expecting when that device was unveiled in January.

Along with Intel's revelations this morning are clues into its original motivations in the ultra-mobile platforms market, and how its intentions may have been diverted by UMPC partner Microsoft. Pictured among Intel's prototype MID consoles is the exact unit first touted as a design direction for the company as early as 2004, and which executives including CEO Paul Otellini have been pulling out as "future directions for UMPC" ever since: By now, you've probably already seen this white, square-egg-shaped, hand-sized unit with a slide-out keyboard and about a 5" keyboard on red trim. It's been seen slipping out of Intel executives' shirt pockets at conventions for over three years.

Intel's documents show the company plans to include a Linux distribution from Beijing-based software company Red Flag, and that Intel has been researching this version since 2005 - since before the Origami/UMPC platform was launched.

And while Intel's 2006 contribution to the UMPC marketing effort used the phrase, "A new category of mobile devices for consumers and businesses alike," today, Intel is describing UMPC as exclusively targeting just "IT enthusiasts" and mobile professionals. Meanwhile, MID will target young, affluent consumers with built-in software for social networking, VoIP communication, video conferencing, IM, and blogging, all available from a curiously well-organized touch-screen panel.

Emphasizing the contrasting approach Intel wants to take today, it characterizes the MID platform as "more than small PCs," but instead "consumer-focused consumer electronic devices" (redundancy apparently intended).

In an appeal to the open source community, Intel's new message is, "We can't do it alone." Perhaps they can do it without Microsoft, but to strengthen the appeal, Intel makes clear it will be using the Mozilla core for its Web browser and Java for much of its functionality. And the options for multimedia appear to be left wide open, which is how the open source community may prefer them.

Intel has informed BetaNews that more information will be made available once the official word has been given from Beijing.

Update ribbon (small)

2:00 pm ET April 16, 2007 - An Intel spokesperson told BetaNews this afternoon that, contrary to all reports, no official announcement of the MID platform was made in Beijing. The reason, we believe, may perhaps be on account of postponement, as all indications had been that Monday was the date. As it stands now, the official announcement may be made Wednesday morning Beijing time, which could mean that the earliest word we'll hear from Intel officials directly on the matter could be late tomorrow afternoon in the States during the company's quarterly earnings report.

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