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frontpath Announces Mobile Internet Appliance

Written By: R. Krause
Published On: October 11 2000

frontpath Announces Mobile Internet Appliance
R. Krause - October 11, 2000

Event Summary

[Source: frontpath press release]

September 27th, 2000 -- Fontpath, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of S3 Incorporated, today announced ProGear. ProGear is frontpath's Information Appliance targeted to the vertical market segments. ProGear couples hardware and software to deliver one of the first ever wireless, truly portable, untethered, broadband-based products capable of enabling vertical partners to fully customize content. frontpath says it will initially focus on the travel, education, entertainment, and medical markets.

ProGear supports all rich media formats and offers a high quality 10.4" TFT display, X 86 compatibility and a touch screen that will enable quick access to applications or the Internet. A soft keyboard or handwriting recognition gives users the choice of input modes. The three- pound product comes with a Soundblaster compatible audio and microphone/headphone support. ProGear comes standard with a three cell, three-hour battery. As upgrades, ProGear has a six cell, six-hour battery and also offers a cradle with integrated charging station. Both batteries are lithium ion with smart battery technology.

Initially available to frontpath partners in the US, the company anticipates that the most popular configuration will be in the $1,500 range with the flexibility to upgrade or downgrade features such as batteries, memory, cradle, access points, keyboard and mouse. Beta units are scheduled to be generally available in Q4, 2000 with quantity shipments scheduled to be available in Q1, 2001.

Market Impact

frontpath's approach differs from the rest of the market in a few ways:

  1. Wireless vs. cabled
  2. Primarily business/vertical users, as opposed to home users
  3. "Web pad" design
  4. Relatively high price

The wireless approach is intriguing. We can envision a mobile user connecting to a "gortal", (groupware portal) such as salesforce.com, to upload or download important information from that latest hot sales call, etc. The major competition in the wireless space is likely to come from Symbian-based and the other wireless gear such as Palm/Motorola devices.

Going for the business crowd, especially vertical markets such as medical, is a big change from the current "let's sell appliances to people who can't afford a real PC" mindset. We can see some vertical markets having a need for wireless connectedness - being able to download a patient's records instantly to an appliance would probably make a doctor's life easier. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles provides Palm devices to allow their physicians to do just that.

The idea of a Web pad has been discussed often in recent months, and Transmeta showed a model at PC Expo in June. The functionality and portability of the ProGear look good, but we question whether it isn't a little too big and heavy. Three pounds is light compared to most notebooks, but by the end of the day, even three pounds gets to be a bit much.

We question the wisdom of such a (relatively) high price. The ProGear certainly has lots of high-end features: lots of RAM (64 or 128MB), optional hard drive, high-resolution display. But will people really pay the extra $1000 (over portable devices such as a Palm VII or Psion's revo Plus ) for a portable Web surfer? frontpath's targeted applications will help it make a case for the extra cost, but they will need to provide a significant number of targeted apps to get broader market appeal.

We do not see this as a complete offering yet. frontpath has tied its fortunes, at least partly, to those of cyberPIXIE, a "broadband wireless infomediary company" which, curiously, is also targeting the hospitality, travel, sports and entertainment industries. (What, no health care?) This appears to mean that if your ProGear is not within spittin' distance of a cyberPIXIE transceiver, you're SOL ("Sorry, Out of Luck"). Until cyberPIXIE has built up enough customers (whether alone or jointly with frontpath), we expect coverage to be sparse.

User Recommendations

To paraphrase frontpath's statements: this product is not for everybody. Companies looking to replace their PCs with Internet/information appliances will have little need for the ProGear unit - it's not aimed at desk-bound employees. However, companies in the targeted markets (healthcare, travel, education) with highly mobile (within the building) workforces needing Web access may find this device useful.

Because of the concerns mentioned , we can not yet recommend this system as a panacea for the target markets. However, we believe there may be a decent future for this product set.

Companies considering this system must be sure to ask enough questions, such as:

  • How much will building up the infrastructure (i.e., transceivers, servers, etc.) cost?

  • Will my specific needs be met by frontpath's packaged applications?

  • Under what conditions will I be able to take this on the road and still have access?

 
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