IBM will work with Internet Appliance Network (IAN) to customise NetVista appliances, IBM announced here Tuesday.
Companies will be able to work with IAN to configure the NetVista screen display and applications to their tastes, and then sell or give them to their business clients. The idea is that the business clients would then use the NetVistas to access the Web and directly contact the companies that configured the NetVistas for them.
Essentially, at the cost of providing a relatively cheap Internet access tool to their customers, companies could get the benefit of brand-building, free advertising and routine client contact, according to IBM.
Millions of people use personal computers to access the Internet, but the proliferation of Internet appliances - devices like cell phones, personal digital assistants and pagers connected to the Web - may soon make PCs, in comparison, appear to be an unnatural way to get online, said IBM vice president of Net Device Alliances Brian Connors.
"PCs weren't designed to connect to the Internet - that was secondary," he said. Citing industry analysis from International Data Corp., he added, "The number of devices will exceed the number of PCs (online) in the future."
The shift in IBM's thinking shows at PC Expo here, with its plans for the NetVista personal Internet device, launched earlier this year. It is basically a small computer screen and a keyboard designed to provide Internet access and basic applications for computer users.
The low-end, server-based systems, which lack a hard drive or processor of their own, start at $US650; more than most handheld personal digital assistants and older computers, but less than most new PCs. It comes with either a V.90 modem or a port for broadband Internet access.
Its ease of use will attract customers, said Connors. "With an appliance, you just plug it in and go," he said. "You don't have to worry, your Internet service provider will make sure it works."
IBM is working with BellSouth in a trial program targeting families with children who want a no-hassle connection to the Internet, e-mail, and similar common services. The trial begins in July, in Miami; Atlanta, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Connors said IBM is also pitching NetVista at corporate customers, however, as a tool for businesses to keep customers connected to them through the Web - on an appliance customised to improve the business-client relationship.
"IBM is helping companies reach out to customers with a total Internet solution that uses the Web as a communications vehicle - not just as a destination for Web browsing," he said. "We are helping our alliance partners build an electronic relationship with their customers by providing the necessary IT expertise to create a customized platform that leverages the power of e-business."
NetVista's potential to succeed in the marketplace will parallel the growth of broadband access to the Internet and e-business initiatives like providing application services, he said. "Telephone companies want bandwidth-sucking devices," said Connors. "We want application-sucking devices."