Start-up plans e-mail device for the masses

Danger Research, which plans to offer a BlackBerry-like device aimed at the consumer market, will demonstrate a prototype of its wireless handheld Thursday.

A Silicon Valley start-up that plans to offer a BlackBerry-like device aimed at the consumer market will demonstrate a prototype of its wireless handheld Thursday.

Danger Research's Hiptop is designed to send and receive e-mail with a keyboard similar to the one on the BlackBerry e-mail pager from Research In Motion. Although the BlackBerry is aimed primarily at corporations, Danger hopes to tap the consumer market by offering the Hiptop for about $200--about half the cost of the BlackBerry.

In addition to handling e-mail, the Hiptop is expected to feature Web browsing, instant messaging, voice phone calls and a tiny digital camera.

In the spring, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Danger said it hoped to have the device in consumers' hands by late fall. The company now aims to ship it in the first quarter of next year.

Other companies have targeted the consumer market with mixed results. Motorola's e-mail pagers include the Talkabout T900, which sells for $99 after a $50 rebate. AOL Time Warner recently slashed the price of its AOL-branded BlackBerry from the original $329 to $99.

Danger plans to have the Hiptop run first on the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network, but has not announced which carriers will offer the device. The first GPRS network in the United States just launched commercially in Seattle, but Danger executives said a broader network should be in place by the time the device launches early next year.

"We're designing the rollout such that when the device is commercially available, it shouldn't be a problem," Chief Technology Officer Joe Britt said.

At a demonstration set for Thursday at the Demomobile conference near San Diego, Danger will use the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network for both voice and data. GPRS is an improvement to GSM and handles data in packets rather than over a persistent, circuit-switched line.

Danger is designing the Hiptop but plans to let wireless carriers market and sell the device.

Carriers will ultimately determine the price of the Hiptop and the service, Britt said, but Danger still expects its manufacturing costs to be low enough that it can sell the device for about $200.

Danger, which was started by former Apple Computer workers who have also spent time at companies such as WebTV and TiVo, is backed by just $11 million in funding--$9 million of which comes from Softbank Venture Partners.

The company plans to announce carriers and new investments within 30 to 60 days, Britt said.

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