Internet Appliances

Bob Cringely writes that we are ready for Internet appliances and wonders where they are.

An Audrey, nee Ergo Audrey, nee 3Com Audrey, is, or was, an Internet appliance — a small computer intended solely for web browsing. Several such boxes appeared in the 2000-2001 era, though none to my knowledge are still manufactured. And that’s a shame because the world is finally ready for Internet Appliances just at a time when the computer industry is darned sure it isn’t going to make any more.

If you saw my “Nerds 2.01” show, you saw Oracle’s Larry Ellison ranting about how stupid PCs are, with their hard and floppy disks, and what most of us really want is a simple appliance for doing e-mail and web browsing with storage and all software housed somewhere on the Net where Larry’s kid would be in charge of keeping everything current. So many people saw that show (Bob claimed) that a little Internet Appliance industry came into existence with products coming from vendors like Compaq and 3Com. Only nobody bought them, simply because they were too darned slow.

But that was then and this is now. Now we have broadband in a large percentage of homes and we have cheaper memory and faster/cheaper processors. The irony is that four years after they died, the market is just screaming for such products to extend the Internet to the final few places it doesn’t yet belong, like my mother-in-law’s house.

She had a computer, but never noticed that it had been fried by a power surge. When we arrived for Thanksgiving it was still “on” but dead, the monitor an unblinking eye. She has an e-mail address, but doesn’t check it. She wants to make airline and hotel reservations over the Internet, but instead does it over the phone to my wife, her very own Internet travel agent.

This woman needs an Audrey. Smaller than the PC it will replace, Audrey can sit on her desk next to the telephone answering machine. When she gets an e-mail both a big button and the translucent stylus will glow and blink. There’s a touchscreen (no mouse), and the little keyboard is wireless and can be hidden in a drawer. You can also mount your Audrey on a wall. It would be the perfect device for a telco to bundle with some entry-level DSL service, don’t you think?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.