Sony Eyes Net Appliance Market

Sony Electronics later this month will ship a new product that it hopes will
succeed in a space where competitors have failed.

The device, a net
appliance dubbed the e Villa Network Entertainment Center, will hit retail
outlets with a suggested price of $500, about the same as 3Com’s failed Audrey net appliance.

The e Villa Web terminal comes with a built-in V.90 modem, and Sony promised
that in the near future broadband service would be available through its
built-in Ethernet port. Sony has an exclusive deal with EarthLink to provide
dial-up connectivity for the device for $21.95 a month under the e Villa
online service brand. The subscription offers unlimited access for up to
four users, each with their own e-mail address, 10MB of online mail storage,
and bookmark, cookie and preference settings. Subscribers can also connect
to the Internet through their PCs under the same subscription.

Unlike the Audrey, the e Villa takes a form factor similar to a PC. It comes
with a 15-inch (14-inch-viewable), portrait-mode (800 by 1,024-pixel)
Trinitron CRT display, which lets surfers view Web pages with one-third less
scrolling. It also has a full-sized keyboard, scroll mouse, audio jack and
Memory Stick media slot, as well as two USB ports for external printers or
Zip drives. Under the hood it combines a National Semiconductor Geode
processor and the BeIA operating system, with provision to manage multimedia
plug-ins and device drivers for popular sites.

Three buttons on the front of the e Villa take users to the Web, their
e-mail boxes or a portal to seven “channels” of information. Nightly updates
make information such as movie times, stock quotes, and weather forecasts
accessible offline.

Despite high profile flops in the information appliance market — including
the Audrey and Netpliance’s i-Opener — a number of analysts remain bearish
on the market as a whole. IDC Tuesday released a report claiming that the
market will soar from $7 billion last year to $44 billion in 2005. Clearly
Sony Electronics wants a part of that action.

But the fine print of IDC’s analysis suggests a different story.

“Moving forward, more established products such as handhelds, iTV-enabled
devices, and Internet-capable gaming devices will fuel-inject the
information appliances market with high-octane growth,” IDC said. “Together,
these products will account for 85 percent of total value of shipments in
2005. Web tablets, Web terminals and e-mail terminals will make up only a
very slim portion of the market.”

News Around the Web