Gateway, Netpliance Bow Net Appliances

Two recent announcements have put some momentum behind the portable Internet-access devices that will play a role in tomorrow's broadband home.

Gateway 2000 Inc. announced a "Gateway Connected Touch Pad" with a Broadband Corp. modem that will feature America Online Inc. service and retail for $599, plus the monthly AOL fee. Netpliance Inc. and AT&T WorldNet will debut the "i-opener2001" Net appliance, featuring AT&T's WorldNet Internet service. The device will sell on QVC after Thanksgiving and cost $299, plus the monthly AT&T WorldNet fee.

Industry analysts believe consumers will turn to Internet appliances to stay connected to the Web wherever they are inside their home. And many believe that will extend to the living room, where consumers could use Internet appliances and interactive TV at the same time.

For AOL, the device extends its "AOL Everywhere" concept, said company president Bob Pittman.

"It is for the AOL member," Pittman said in a video segment. "You love AOL, you love the computer and you want to take it to other places in the home. That's what this device is about."

The Gateway device sports a 10-inch flat screen and a customized version of AOL. The device uses Transmeta Corp.'s "Crusoe" chip and runs on the Linux operating system. Customers can access electronic mail and online calendars. They use a wireless keyboard to write or enter commands and would plug the device into a phone line or cable modem to gain Internet access.

Broadcom Corp. is supplying the chip technology, the first application of wider home networking Broadcom announced with Gateway.

Netpliance will offer similar Internet connectivity and e-mail capabilities for consumers. John McHale, chief executive officer of Netpliance, said the device uses a flat panel display and plugs into a home phone line.

McHale said the appliance would support wireless connections in the future. Netpliance would provide the software infrastructure and manage the information, while another vendor would actually build the hardware.

Netpliance makes the current generation of gear for the WorldNet service, but will go into software-only mode when it gets some manufacturers on board.

Today, Netpliance markets a stand-alone device that's offered through CompUSA Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc., Staples Inc. and Best Buy Co.

Netpliance plans to sell a version featuring EarthLink Inc. Internet service through those channels. But the company is shifting focus from that of a direct consumer Internet-appliance service provider to "an enabling infrastructure and managed services company."