Ericsson's entry revitalizes WebPad scene
Source: IDG - Hanover, Germany
12th Feb 2000
L.M. Ericsson Telephone
rekindled interest in the WebPad market here at the CeBIT show with
the introduction of the Screen Phone, a wireless Internet appliance
for home users.
The Screen Phone links to a user's telephone line or Internet access
using Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity. It provides users
with a well-packaged device, allowing users to browse the Web or send
e-mails while simultaneously making phone calls from the comfort of
their sofa, Ericsson officials said.
Scheduled to ship by year's end, the Screen Phone HS210 is the mobile
phone vendor's first cordless Internet access device aimed directly
at consumers. Ericsson's announcement has already resulted in other
major vendors taking a second look at WebPads, according to Roger SSll,
president of WebPAD vendor RS Cordless Technology (RSC), of TSby, Sweden.
"Ericsson's entry made a huge difference; you could say that Ericsson
now has legitimized the WebPad category," SSll said. "Suddenly everybody
is interested in talking to us again."
National Semiconductor and Microsoft in a joint announcement here said
that several vendors, including Taiwan's Acer, Thomson Multimedia and
Vestel USA, are also readying so-called MSN-based Web Companions designed
around the WebPad reference platform.
National Semiconductor originally introduced the WebPad wireless tablet
concept at the Comdex Fall show in Las Vegas in 1998. To date WebPads
have remained crowd pullers at trade shows rather than mass market products,
but vendors are now defining business models and markets for the devices
and getting closer to ramping up production.
RSC, for example, has inked a production agreement for as many as 10,000
units per week with contract manufacturer Selestica and expects volume
production to begin in June, said SSll.
"The demand is there already. We could ship thousands of units today,
but production has been held back by shortages of screens and memory
chips," he added.
RSC is currently in negotiations with several banks as well as Internet
service providers (ISPs), and its WebPads will appear on the market
under the name of its partners rather than the RSC brand, SSll said.
"Banks and ISPs will be the early drivers of this market. Banks, for
example, see WebPads as a device for getting more of their customers
to use Internet banking services," said SSll.
Banks may even be willing to give away WebPad devices featuring pre-installed
banking applications to its customers for free, while ISPs are looking
at business models such as subsidizing the cost of the device to make
the initial purchase price more attractive for consumers, he added.
Ericsson's Screen Phone, which runs the open-source Linux operating
system, combines both Internet access and a speaker phone, and will
communicate with a home base station using the emerging Bluetooth technology
for wireless personal area networking.
Although still in its infancy, the market for cordless communications
devices has a bright future, Ericsson President Kurt Hellstrsm predicted.
"We expect the wireless communications device market to within three
to five years become as big as the PC market," Hellstrsm said.
At National Semiconductor's stand at CeBIT, a dozen or so WebPad vendors
were displaying products based around the chip maker's integrated Geode
processors and running operating systems ranging from Linux and QNX
to Windows CE.
RSC's WebPad device, for example, features a 10-inch 800 x 600 pixel
super VGA touch-screen and is encased in a frame that has buttons for
controlling the cursor and other commands. It communicates with a base
station over a data communication link based on the DECT (digital enhanced
cordless telecommunications) standard, the same technology used by many
of today's cordless home and office phones.
The company offers two versions, one for the European market operating
at 1.8GHz, another for the North American market at 2.4GHz. Users can
type in Web addresses or e-mails with a stylus on a pop-up keyboard
on the touch-screen.
Germany's Siemens also used the show here to show off the SIMpad, a
prototype WebPad-like tablet device. The SIMpad, the size of a sheet
of A4 paper and weighing 1.1 kilograms, offers full Internet access
over a cordless DECT connection, Siemens said.
Siemens used the show here to ask visitors to its stand to fill in a
survey form about the SIMpad, but the company has no definite shipment
plans for the device as yet, officials said.
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