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Net Appliances

Let's take a look at Net appliances first—specifically, two lassies known as Audrey and eVilla—both of which ended up in the Net appliance graveyard.


On March 21, 2001, 3Com announced that it was discontinuing its household digital assistant called Audrey. Audrey was positioned as a digital solution to the last-century family message center. Using Audrey's tablet screen, you could scribble messages to family members, check email, surf the web, beam your schedule into Audrey from your PDA, and generally organize your family's life. Problem was, you could only have one email address, couldn't set up group email addresses to create an invitation list for a party, and could only surf a limited number of preset web sites. And while advertising gave the general impression that with Audrey, you didn't need a PC to connect to the online world, it was priced at over $500 when you added optional peripherals. That was a mistake. At the time, you could buy a fully functional PC at that price.

Furthermore, Audrey was a lost child. Neither PC nor Net appliance—neither fish nor fowl. Audrey was too expensive and not powerful enough for what it claimed to do.

What 3Com didn't understand is that Net appliances are good for only one thing; they should have positioned Audrey as a kitchen Net appliance. Fill it with information and resources that apply only to activities that take place in the kitchen—and price this trimmed-down appliance like a toaster.


Another Net appliance lasted only two months. Where 3Com shot for the family information center, Sony aimed for the family entertainment center. Sony's eVilla Net Entertainment Center retailed for $500 and, like Audrey, offered a package of predetermined news, sports, and weather information. Popular online destinations from AOL Time Warner, Yahoo!, and Microsoft were not included. In addition, users of eVilla were not able to send or receive instant messages or download streaming media because eVilla had no hard drive.

Consumer Confusion

The basic problem that faces the manufacturers of Net appliances is consumer confusion about what an Internet appliance is and how it differs from a PC. The first and most important difference is price. If Net appliances are to sell at all, they need to be priced as appliances—not more than $200. Second, winning products come about when technology is focused on people, not because people are focused on technology. People need to see a use for and like the product.

This thought applies not only to Net appliances but to e-books as well.

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