Technology Comes Home.
Consider the progress of several technologies of the last century. When the telephone first found its way into our homes, we placed it in the front hall, on a table, as though we were reluctant to even let it in. But then, as we came to accept it as a necessary part of our lives, we moved it to the kitchen. Today, the phone hangs on a wall or sits on a counter as though it were always there.
Radio, when it was still called the wireless, had a prominent place in the other living room, its technology glowing like embers deep inside a beautiful, cathedral-shaped wooden case. As it became less special and more necessary, however, it moved in a smaller Bakelite case to a shelf or counter in the kitchen, to be turned on as soon as we got up in the morning. Even after television followed the same migration path, most of us still have a radio in the kitchen.
The lesson is, if it works and we learn to love it or depend on it, we probably will drag it into our favorite room.
In their march into our homes, computers have hit a brick wall. Penetration is about half of what the manufacturers had hoped for, and now earnings and stock prices are beginning to bleed as a result of the collision with that wall. The wall actually is a door--the door to the kitchen--and until someone figures out how to get the computer through it, PC makers have a serious problem. Speculation over imminent price wars have led some commentators to assume that the ranks of PC manufacturers will be thinned this year.
And why have we kept PCs out of our favorite room when it already is humming with the sounds of music, TV babble, and chirping phones? Two reasons leap to mind. PCs are bulky and have the industrial chic of East European cars, and, running on the Windows operating system, they are complicated and unreliable. In a word, they are office machines
Not that companies haven't tried, but most of the kitchen PCs have failed because, well because they were PCs. Netpliance's I-opener and Virgin's appliances didn't go anywhere. And recently, Compaq and Gateway have released Web appliances they claim will fit right into your kitchen. Well, I would be surprised because both suspiciously resemble PCs, and the Compaq iPaq IA-1 must be connected to the Microsoft Network, and the Gateway Connected Touch Pad requires the AOL service. When will computer manufacturers realize that the company store dynamic last worked when Coal was King?
Oh, well, so we're slow learners.
3Com--Three Kinds of Smart
3Com was the company that was smart enough to realize that for a pocket computer to succeed, it had to be something other than a miniaturized PC. So they developed the Palm PDA and have since owned that market. Now they've released a kitchen PC that looks like it might be the computer that opens a few kitchen doors. Why? The answers are almost too simple. It was designed for the kitchen. It doesn't look like, and in a number of ways doesn't act like, a PC--it's more like a large color PDA. And finally, it's called Audrey--not iPaq IA-1.
With Audrey, most of the functions are push-button, and there's a twist dial with 12 preset Web channels for TV-like tuning. The screen is a color touch-sensitive screen that's 6 1/4 X 4 3/4 inches, and the clear stylus rests in the top of the device and lights up when there are unread messages. And there's a wireless keyboard for e-mail. You can set Audrey up on the counter by leaning it back on its easel arm, or you can hang it on the wall.
When you pick it up, Audrey's shape places the power button under your right thumb and e-mail under your left. Like the Palm Pilot, there are dedicated buttons for the address book, datebook, and browser. You can sync information from up to two Palm-compatible devices (Palm, Handspring, and Sony Clios). Different family members get their own color code so they can easily find their events on the calendar.
The e-mail function is interesting. You can type an e-mail with the wireless keyboard, or you can handwrite it on the touch-sensitive screen (scribble if you're a younger user). Or you can send a voice message. The microphone is the hole to the right of the Web channel selection dial. Snapshots that were saved in Audrey's address book can be added to e-mail. Tap the file, and it gets transferred.
In fact, the tapping connection makes Audrey look a lot like an oversized, highly styled Palm for the kitchen. If you tap an e-mail address in the address book, the e-mail function opens--tap a Web address, and the browser takes you there. And you know Audrey was destined for the kitchen. She is available in ocean, sunshine, meadow, linen, and slate. Not the putty or grays you might find in a geek-suite.
So has the computer finally come home? Perhaps. But if Audrey is to take off like 3Coms' other successes, it will probably take the kind of word-of-mouth that sold the Palm devices. Good thing it will be in the busiest room in the house. Where better to be seen and picked up than in the kitchen?
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|Title Annotation:||Hardware Review; Audrey personal computer|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2001|
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