Sony postpones Net appliance release

The electronics giant pushes back the launch date for its eVilla Web-surfing appliance until May, saying that it wants time to add more features.

Sony has delayed the launch for its eVilla Internet appliance, originally due this month, until May.

The $500 device for browsing the Web and playing digital music was ready in time for its scheduled April launch, Sony told CNET, but the company decided it wanted to add more features.

eVilla was unveiled in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Although Sony said it remains committed to the Internet appliance market, a number of other companies have pulled back recently. 3Com will stop selling its Audrey Web-surfing appliance and its Kerbango Internet radio. Gateway is rethinking its Net gadget strategy.

"It's a matter of just making sure we have all of the partnerships and features we think are compelling," said James Neal, eVilla's marketing manager. He added that the company has not changed the unit's design or its key components.

eVilla features a 15-inch monitor that is longer than the displays on most computers or Net appliances. It runs on Be's BeIA operating system. Although it lacks a hard drive, the unit has a Memory Stick reader and two USB ports for connecting to a printer and external storage such as a Zip drive. The Memory Stick is Sony's removable storage device that looks like a stick of gum.

While recognizing that other companies have had a tough time selling Net appliances, Sony said its device has something the others don't: name recognition among people who don't already own computers.

"Sony is the first major consumer electronics brand to enter this space," Neal said. "We have a 50-year history of developing fun, easy-to-use electronics."

Sony also hopes to position eVilla as more of an Internet entertainment center, rather than just a different way to view Web pages. eVilla owners will be able to store digital content on the Memory Stick, although songs downloaded from the Internet to the eVilla can only be played on that machine. While this may clamp down on music piracy, it also will prevent people from playing the downloaded music in other devices, such as the Memory Stick Walkman.

Sony will start shipping the units to retailers May 1, Neal said, and will start taking preorders on its Web site around the last week in April.