Sony Pulls Plug on e Villa

After only two months, Sony Electronics Thursday bagged its e Villa Network
Entertainment Center, a net appliance that Sony had banked would succeed where competitors like 3Com’s
Audrey failed.

“We are withdrawing the e Villa Network Entertainment Center from retailers
who agreed to market the product in the U.S.,” said Sony
spokesman John Dolak. “We are also notifying users of the product of our
intention to discontinue the consumer e Villa service by
Sept. 13, offering them a full refund that includes costs associated with
the device and related services.”

The device, which looked similar to a PC but had a 15-inch, portrait-mode
(800 by 1,024-pixel) display, was offered to consumers at
about $500. Though it offered many of the same features as a Net
appliance — Web surfing and e-mail — Sony billed it as an
entertainment center due to its multimedia capabilities. The appliance was
packaged with dial-up connectivity via EarthLink for
$21.95 a month, and ran on Be Inc.’s BeIA embedded operating system. Palm acquired Be earlier this month, and said it had no
plans to continue development of BeIA.

But the acquisition of Be appears not to have been the cause of the e Villa’s demise.

“This action is being taken after careful consideration,” Dolak said. “The
product fell short of our initial expectations in terms
of stability and usability.”

Indeed, Sony launched the e Villa at a time when earlier entrants to the Net
appliance field — including the Audrey and
Netpliance’s i-Opener — had already expired. Sony likely thought it could
get a piece of the information appliance market that IDC
predicted in June would soar from $7 billion last year to $44 billion in
2005.

But IDC didn’t really have Web terminals like the e Villa in mind when it
made that prediction.

In the same report that IDC prognosticated a $44 billion market in 2005, it
also said, “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. Together, these products will account for 85 percent of
the 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.”

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