3Com offers full refund for Audrey

Although the company is not publicizing the refund for its Web surfing appliance, a spokesman has confirmed the move to CNET

!- eds update, 4:20 pm: adds two grafs after graf 6 --> Audrey, come home.

3Com, which decided last month to stop selling its Web browsing appliance dubbed Audrey, has begun offering a full refund to customers who bought the device directly from 3Com. The company has not publicized the option of a refund, but a spokesman confirmed the move to CNET

"If people want a refund, they can get a full refund," 3Com spokesman Bob Ingols said Tuesday. However, the offer is good only through June 1 and does not apply for those who bought Audrey from a retailer rather than directly from 3Com. Those who bought Audrey at stores should contact the retailer, Ingols said.

3Com had hoped to add a bit of style to the computing world with Audrey, offering it in Martha Stewart-esque shades: sunshine, linen, meadow, slate and ocean. Audrey was sold at Best Buy, CompUSA and Bloomingdale's.

The decision to offer refunds comes as the Santa Clara, Calif.-based networking company has pulled the plug on one of Audrey's key features--customized channels, or Web sites designed that fit Audrey's 8-inch screen. Audrey owners could change channels by turning a knob, much the way most Americans changed TV channels before the advent of remote controls.

The channels, which included forecasts from Accuweather and financial news from CBS Marketwatch, were discontinued last week. Ingols said all of Audrey's other features, such as the ability to handle e-mail and share calendar and contact information with Palm handhelds should continue to work.

IDC analyst Bryan Ma praised the decision to offer refunds.

"It shows they have a little badge of honor," said Ma, who noted that the refunds could preserve some goodwill for 3Com, should the company later return to the digital home market.

Audrey's woes come amid broader problems at 3Com. The company is looking to shave $1 billion in costs and is expected to further trim its work force by mid-May.

3Com has not updated its Audrey Web site with the new information. A list of questions and answers posted to the site says that 3Com is only providing refunds within the first 30 days of purchasing directly from 3Com and offers no word on the demise of the channels.

Audrey debuted in October for $499. Its short life came to an abrupt end last month, when 3Com said it would abandon the Web-surfing appliance and its Kerbango Internet radio. Ingols refused to say how many Audreys were sold.

Iris Kaplan, who won an Audrey at a 3Com seminar, has her unit listed on eBay.

"I'm already in the process of auctioning it off--so might as well go that route," Kaplan said in an e-mail interview. The bidding was up to $285 late Tuesday afternoon, with the auction still having more than five days left to go.

Kaplan, who works for Fiber Office Net in New York, said the customized channels don't work. "But I can (still) get onto any Web site," she said.