3Com Unveils Audrey

Welcome to the 21st century, ladies and gentleman.

What was conjecture only a couple years ago, to have ubiquitous Internet
access in every room of the house, is now reality with 3Com‘s release of revolutionary Internet
appliance Audrey.

Measuring 6 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches, the stand-up appliance can be placed
anywhere in the house that’s in reach of the Internet
connection. Connection is through Audrey’s 56K modem, although cable and
digital subscriber line users can purchase a modified Ethernet adapter.

Ray Winninger, 3Com director of product development for internet
appliances, said Audrey wasn’t meant to replace the low-end PC, but to
supplement the PC.

“We think there may eventually be a market for devices like that but in the
early phase, we think the sweet spot is really not a device that replaces
the PC, but a device that supplements its capabilities,” Winninger
said. “So all that wonderful stuff you do on your PC, imagine if you could
do a subset of that wonderful stuff in your kitchen.

“We don’t see people sitting down with Audrey for an hour or two at a
time,” Winninger continued. “Instead, we see Audrey used 10 or 15 times
for as little as 5 to 10 seconds each time you use it, for quick things
like what the weather is going to be like tomorrow.”

Navigating through pre-selected Internet content is as easy as turning a
dial, located at the bottom of the unit. Internet channels include news
from ABCNEWS.com,
sports from ESPN.com and
stock quotes from CBS
. More e-commerce sites are planned for inclusion soon.

By far the niftiest feature of the new product is its interface. Users can
either use the attached stylus to write a message, record a voice mail
message or do it the old-fashioned way using a keyboard. E-mails are sent
the same way.

Don Fotsch, 3Com Internet Appliance Division vice president, said the
company’s goal was to make a product easy enough for the whole family to use.

“The Audrey experience allows consumers to spend less time with technology
and more time doing the things they really want to do,” Fotsch said. “Our
focus is to remove the complexity associated with accessing information on
the Internet. Just like flipping a light switch, or turning on the radio,
simply turn Audrey’s dial and the information is there. Accessing zip
code-specific weather, for example, is a virtually instant experience with

Joyce Putscher, Cahners
consumer and convergence group director, said the new product
is positioned to capture a good amount of the market that will see a
worldwide growth rate of 75 percent in the next five years.

“Audrey is very user friendly, while the dial gives it a ‘familiar’ feel to
a TV or radio,” Putscher said. “The note scribbling feature is a super,
personalized way of sending or leaving a message, and is as easy as
grabbing a piece of paper and writing on it.”

It is also compatible with Palm Pilot products like the organizer. Now,
updating the family calendar is as easy as uploading and
downloading. Also, Audrey can be pre-programmed to grab e-mail and the
latest channel content at certain times.

While still pricey, as only new electronics products can be, at $499, the
Internet appliance invoice is sure to drop in time for the Christmas
shopping season.

But the problem isn’t in the pricing, it’s getting your hands on Audrey in
the first place.

Even though it’s easy enough to find and

buy the item at 3Com’s Web site,
getting it from a national retailer might take some time.

Several companies, including Best Buy, Inc., Bloomingdale‘s, Amazon.com and CompUSA, are listed as Audrey
resellers. But calls placed to Best Buy and Bloomingdale’s drew nothing
but confused silence.

In the case of Best Buy, one associate wanted to know what Audrey’s last
name was, while Bloomingdale’s electronics manager Christy Saunders said
her company doesn’t plan to sell it now or in the future, “ever,” she said.

A search on Amazon.com, doesn’t produce results, either.

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