Elektrobit MID Reference Design Aims to put Linux Desktop apps + Smartphone in your pocket

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Elektrobit MID Reference Design Aims to put Linux Desktop apps + Smartphone in your pocket

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Smartphones, netbooks, smartbooks, and Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) while very similar feature-wise, each has their own distinct advantages. Smartphones such as the iPhone have been widely successful, while the MID market has been a bit slow to take off. Elektrobit Corporation (EB), based in Oulu, Finland aims to change that with their new MID reference design that combines the "pocketability" of smartphones with the power of PCs/netbooks since it can run desktop Linux applications. Picture an iPhone that can actually run full version Linux applications such as Firefox, Opera, OpenOffice, Thunderbird, SSH client, and more. That's exactly what you'll get with Elektrobit's (EB) new MID reference design. EB's sleek, media-centric MID reference device takes the power of the PC and makes it pocket-able so you don't have to compromise on mobile capabilities.

I spoke with EB's Vesa Kiviranta Vice President, Mobile Internet Device Solutions, Wireless Solutions BU about their new reference design. Vesa explained that it's based on Intel's next generation Moores­town platform. The reference design includes touch-screen support with multi-touch (cool!) support. It uses the latest 3D and high resolution capacitive sensing touch screen (3.97") powered by EB Touch & Feel technology. Because the screen measures nearly 4 inches (3.97"), it fits into the MID category, while smartphones have screens smaller than 3.9 inches and netbooks have screens larger than 5 inches.The reference design relies on a Linux-based OS with EB's MID UI & Application framework based on QT. It also features EB Navigation Suite with integrated GPS.

It supports two cameras (front & back of phone) so not only can you snap photos, it can also easily support videoconferencing/videochat. I asked EB about support for Skype video chat  and they told me it will indeed be supported in their MID design. In fact, they tested it using the Linux Skype application in their labs. As far as I know, this marks the first time a pocketable mobile phone can perform Skype videoconferencing! Cool stuff! I know many iPhone fans were very disappointed the new iPhone 3GS didn't add a front-facing camera (myself included), which would allow for videochat capabilities. Of course, the current Skype for iPhone client doesn't support video, but my sources tell me it's in the works. It will be very hard to have a videoconference if you have to turn the iPhone around so the camera is facing you, but not the iPhone screen. Basically, they'll be able to see you, but you won't be able to see them - unless you spin the iPhone back around.
Wireless support in the MID design includes just about every wireless spec you can imagine, with support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Mobile WiMAX or HSPA wireless broad­band connectivity. It also features the latest 3D and haptics touch-screen technologies for sensation-based feedback and control at the user interaction-level. It has powerful entertainment/multimedia features including high-definition quality video playback and out-of-the-box multimedia connectivity via HDMI, even with dual screen output. It also has powerful communication capabilities for voice, text (e.g. SMS, IM, e-mails), video, and social networking forums. EB offers value-add software, including navigation software, EB Street Director, a customizable white label solution that offers speech-enabled, turn-by-turn-navigation experience. It also supports Micro USB and a μSD memory card.

According to EB the reference device will offer EB's customers, including wireless and PC original device and equipment manufacturers, wireless operators, among others, the ability to introduce a customized MID product to market faster and with lower development costs. According to EB, "With core competencies in hardware and software design, EB has created a complete MID reference device that can be tailored to a customers' brand and target market requirements. By licensing EB's sophisticated MID reference device technology coupled with device customization services, customers gain the framework to quickly and cost-effectively bring to market innovative MID solutions that aim to increase market competitiveness and revenue-potential."

The EB MID features an optimized user interface (UI) built on Linux-based Moblin software platform. Up until this point, the MID UI technology had only been used in laptops; however EB has creatively engineered the technology enabling this advanced UI to be integrated into such small device, for the first time.

The reference design will be sold to wireless carriers and equipment manufacturers who will be able to customize it before selling it to customers. Vesa informed me that these devices will be available sometime in 2010. With such powerful Linux application support, small form factor (pocketable), and multi-touch touch-screen support, could this MID reference design help competitors knock the Apple iPhone off its throne as the most powerful and popular mobile phone? Only time will tell.


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