April 4, 1996
Canadian Company Unveils
A $500 Internet 'Appliance'
By KATHERINE CAVANAUGH
TransPhone, a Canadian start-up founded five months ago, is joining the race
to offer a $350 to $500 Internet "appliance" that will provide access to basic
on- line activities including e-mail, the World Wide Web and local shopping
without the additional hardware associated with desktop computers.
)The company, based in Ottawa, demonstrated a prototype of its TransPhone
appliance in New York City last week. The seven-pound device includes a
two-line telephone with keypad, handset, speakerphone and digital answering
machine; a microprocessor with 512K memory, a fold-out keyboard and VGA color
screen; a 14.4 kbps internal modem; ports for a mouse, printer and other
peripherals, and a magnetic card reader
for credit and debit cards.
)The device, which has no hard drive, utilizes software and technology
licensed from Citrix Systems that allows familiar Internet tools --including
the Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer browsers -- to run on the
TransPhone. The machine is designed to connect to the TransPhone Network
Service, which provides Internet access as well as credit- and debit-card
The company says that TransPhone owners will not have to make any adjustments
for new Internet service or technology. Updates and adjustments will be
managed by the company's data center and will appear automatically on
TransPhone screens when the appliance is on line.
"Our user target is the 70 percent of the population in the U.S. that does
not have computers in their everyday lives," said Barry Brisco, the chief
executive of TransPhone. "We are also looking at those homes where there is a
line-up to use the desktop computer. Our appliance can be used to support
basic household functions that include sending e-mail, shopping, balancing a
checkbook or writing a two-page essay for school."
Brisco said that TransPhone hopes to distribute the device by striking
alliances with local businesses and institutions - - discount shopping clubs
and financial service companies, for example -- as well as with national
"We are not entirely confident that if we rolled out this appliance for Web
surfing alone that it would have a sustaining value in the marketplace,"
Brisco said. Instead, he said, the company was working to offer that
capability in combination with information about community businesses and
retailers and community services, like minor league sports or church events.
"Eighty percent of all transactions people do are local, and we do not think
that will change." he said.
The first TransPhone -- a $995 model with a broader range of functions than
the basic device, to test consumer preferences -- will be available in
Pittsburgh on June 1, the company said. The distributor will be OnTV, a
developer of World Wide Web pages.
Don Sussis, a technology consultant with Interested, Inc., in New York, saw
the TransPhone for the first time last week and said he was impressed.
"For most American homes, the decision to buy a new computing machine at the
$2,000 level means postponing a family vacation, a second car or needed home
repairs," he said. "A different approach is needed. The answer just may be in
the small appliance computer."
Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications in Bethesda, Md., was less
"Timing is everything," he said. "This may or may not be the right time for a
single, do-it-all device -- I like to call them lobotomized computers -- for
the home. Screen phones or smart phones have been demonstrated in the past by
companies like AT&T, Philips and small companies, and these were all withdrawn
from the market and never sold more than minimal amounts of units."