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Eight digital instruments in one

Origami folds gadgets

PC World

By James Niccolai

(IDG) -- Looking to revive interest in Internet appliances, National Semiconductor says it will show off a concept product at Comdex that combines eight digital gadgets into a single, portable appliance weighing less than a pound.

The annual fall trade show opens Sunday with the traditional keynote address from Microsoft's Bill Gates at 7 p.m. MST at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Comdex runs through November 16.

Called the Origami Mobile Communicator, the product was built to show off the capabilities of National Semiconductor's low-power Geode processor, and also to stir interest among manufacturers who may be persuaded to sell the product.

Named for the Japanese art of paper folding, the Origami can be twisted and turned into eight different gadgets including a digital camera, a videophone, a Web surfing pad and an e-mail terminal.

It's powered by the Geode SC3200 processor with integrated video and audio components, and runs an embedded version of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, a National Semiconductor spokesperson says.

Internet appliances are typically small, easy-to-use computers designed for specific tasks like sending e-mail or surfing the Web. Once hyped as low-cost alternatives to PCs, for the most part they've failed to capture the imagination of end-users. INFOCENTER
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Uncertain demand and the cost of developing the products caused some vendors to scrap their appliances this year, notably 3Com, which killed its Audrey appliance and Sony, which put the EVilla to rest in August.

But that could be because manufacturers offered consumers the wrong type of product, according to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

"The first generation of Internet appliances were pretty vanilla," he says. Some manufacturers, swept up by the Internet boom, pushed products out the door quickly without much regard for creativity, innovation or the demands of users.

"I think the Origami is one of the more innovative examples combining next-generation technologies with the Internet appliance platform," Bajarin says, adding that it's too early to say how the Origami will fare. National Semiconductor hasn't signed up a manufacturer for the product yet, but hopes to see it available in the second half of next year.

Measuring 8 by 4 inches by 4 inches, it has a 4-inch touch-screen TFT LCD, a built-in microphone, as well as USB and CompactFlash ports. It uses Internet Explorer 6.0 and Windows Media Player. And it connects to the Web via Bluetooth or 802.11.

Four other appliances based on the Geode chip are to be shown this year, the National Semiconductor spokesperson says. Among them: a portable WebPad from Dutch electronics giant Koninklijke Philips Electronics; and a desktop appliance from Sageport, a startup that makes Internet access devices for seniors. Sageport is based in Bellevue, Washington.

National Semiconductor hawked its Geode chip at last year's Comdex too. Among the vendors who used it was Metricom, whose WebPad Metro surfed the Internet at a zippy 120 kilobits per second via Metricom's Ricochet high-speed wireless data service. Metricom has since gone out of business, taking its appliance with it. The Audrey and the EVilla were also powered by the Geode.

Other vendors have stayed the course. DT Research and Honeywell International each sell WebPads based on the Geode, aimed primarily at vertical markets like retail and health care. National Semiconductor hopes the Origami will revive consumer interest in Internet appliance products.


• National Semiconductor

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