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RealTime IT News

Air Conditioners - A Net Appliance?

Really, what can't be Web-enabled these days? A few weeks ago, Hewlett-Packard sounded off with Internet-ready printers, and, as most people are well aware, an untold number of wireless specialists have wowed onlookers with Web-triggered soft drink machines at trade shows in the last several months.

Big Blue is one such tech giant with a keen interest. IBM Corp. Monday paired with Carrier, which specializes in temperature-altering systems, to develop a wireless air conditioner. Dubbed "Myappliance," Big Blue will power the device with its Websphere software and eServers.

As one might expect, the tool and corresponding service are targeted for those with a fondness for using gadgets such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants (although not until later for the latter device), and want to access appliances in their households from afar. Consumers will be able to call up Myappliance.com from their Web-bearing device of choice to turn the conditioner on or off, as well as adjust temperatures. Myappliance will also send fault codes and other diagnostic alerts to mobile phones, e-mail or fax.

IBM will design the architecture from the embedded Java running inside air conditioner units to the backend Web servers to the Web browsers in mobile phones and perform the systems integration for the solution. IBM will utilize its WebSphere Everyplace Suite Enterprise Edition, WebSphere Application Server, and Visual Age Micro Edition J9 Virtual Machine and eServers running AIX for this deal.

While IBM is powering the device in every sense of the Web, Carrier's dealers, installers, and engineers will have individual unit control and will be on call for troubleshooting.

That the announcement comes from Big Blue should come as no surprise. The company has been quite pervasive with respect to its pervasive computing division in the last few years, particularly showing its wares, including Linux-enabled wristwatches and earrings, at conferences and trade shows.

But is a Web-based AC a sure shot to market? Not yet, one analyst told InternetNews.com Monday.

"IBM does do a fair amount of development and product releases designed to showcase the company's technological prowess," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "The NetVista X40, for example, was seen as a showcase product that was not expected to sell large volumes, but was instead intended to lend a "halo effect" to the rest of the desktop line. I think "Deep Blue," it's chess-winning mainframe, was another example. All these developments could become practical at some point, but from a commercial perspective, not anytime soon."

Michel Mayer, general manager of pervasive computing for IBM, likes his firm's chances in the evolving sector as he said IBM has embarked on more than 500 customer engagements in the wireless e-business space in the past year. The company has also worked with fellow tech giants Intel, Motorola, Cisco, Nokia and Palm in the wireless "computing everywhere" arena.

Alceste Murada, Carrier Vice President, Residential Light Commercial Products and General Manager, Southern Europe, said it was Carrier's hope that consumers will embrace remote control air conditioning around the world.

Murada's view for this may be considerably more rosy in Europe than it is for those observing the wireless landscape in the United States, where tech consumers have been more hesitant to embrace forms of remote access interaction with appliances.

Carrier, it seems, is well aware of this: it plans to launch the service from WAP phones this summer to several hundred commercial and residential customers in certain European countries, as part of its new range of Night and Day console split system air conditioners. The program may then be extended throughout Europe and North America and will eventually support other devices, such as PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). The operative word there is "may." The potential for success for such services in the U.S. is dubious as the country has been slow to embrace wireless appliances fully.

For an example, Finland currently has soft drink machines on the streets that may be accessed via mobile phones, although the technology is infrared-based, and not powered by the wireless standard Bluetooth. Still, you can't say the same for New York City, where you might be able to test one at a technology trade show once every couple of months.

Research firm IDC said it is a gross lack of understanding that is staving off interest in wireless Web technology.

"Some cellular/PCS users believe access to the Internet means browsing and displaying full Web pages on the handset display," IDC analyst Iain Gillott said. "This incorrect perception will have to change, and will change, as more services are offered and the awareness of actual wireless Internet capabilities increases."