Although the giant halls at Las Vegas are supposed to be individually themed, every one lists "Information Appliances" on its menu. The term is becoming as ubiquitous as "uses electricity"... and is probably about as redundant. Well... if they aren't information appliances what are they supposed to be doing, heating the room? In which case what are they doing at Comdex? We'll give you the full rundown of webpads later but first honours should go to the Ericsson device, which will be the first to reach the UK.
It's a wireless tablet that shuns the NatSemi and Transmeta chips used in just about every other appliance we've seen this week in favour of StrongARM. The twist is its use of a small Bluetooth base station as the wireless backbone, and although comms are currently provided by a 56k dial-up modem, broadband versions are planned for Q3 2001. The pad uses Red Hat Linux and the Opera browser, rather than Mozilla.
Alas this provided the only glitch in our run-through, as it only displayed the masthead of your favourite online IT newspaper, and got no further than our vulture logo. In addition to the usual mail and address book applets it has a voice note recorder and a scribbling application. As these minimalist UIs go though, it's very slick and discreet - dropping the redundant Mac/PC desktop elements without being insultingly childish, which so many of these appliances are.
Ericsson says it will be priced somewhere between a "tethered" appliance and a low-end PC. We got hints that subsidies would figure in the plan, somewhere. The pad should be launched into "five or six" European countries and the US in March, although things will start to get interesting in the second stage. With that broadband version, Ericsson says the appliance will become more of an open platform, and Red Hat is working on a seamless way of downloading appropriate applets, making this the first Linux appliance with pretensions to being a platform, rather than somewhere where the Penguin remains hidden behind the curtains.
In flusher days, Ericsson poured a load of cash into hiring first class industrial designers to create lavish, futuristic domestic concepts. Although many of these seem to have been axed in the labs, this one appears to be growing rudimentary feet. ®