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Be teams with Net appliance maker

In the latest bid to simplify Web surfing, upstart Net appliance maker Qubit teams with software developer Be for use of its Stinger operating system in a new line of wireless devices.

Qubit WebTablet In the latest bid to simplify Web surfing, upstart Net appliance maker Qubit has teamed with software developer Be for use of its Stinger operating system in a new line of wireless devices.

Qubit announced that it will adopt the Stinger OS from Be for its WebTablet, a simplified Web surfing and email device that looks like an Etch a Sketch. The product, due by the second quarter of next year, will sell for around $400, according to the company.

The WebTablet belongs to a family of pad products vying for attention in the emerging market for easy-to-use appliances for the home. Their main features are large screens and the ability to connect to the Internet wirelessly, either through a wireless modem or a wireless "bridge" to a wired PC or a docking station. Either way, the device lets users read on the Web or send email from anywhere in the house.

Portabililty, however, has not quelled the many questions that remain about the viability of these types of devices, which remain largely untested by the market. At $400, these portable pads will actually cost more than some home PCs. It may be difficult to convince consumers to shell out the same amount of money for less functionality, analysts said.

Other stripped-down Web devices, such as the MSN Companion, are coming to the market in the same time period. Although bulkier in design, these terminal-type devices are less design-intensive and should cost less. Manufacturers have also said that telecommunications carriers will subsidize much of the cost of the terminals.

First announced a couple of years ago, limited-function Internet appliances are now beginning to creep closer to actual products, as opposed to pure hype. National Semiconductor first announced its WebPad device, which is similar to Qubit's in concept, at Comdex two years ago. This November, the company announced that Boundless Technology would be the first company to manufacture a device, dubbed the iBrow, based on National's reference design.

Be is also working with National on the WebPad, part of its continuing effort to boost its status on the desktop operating system battle and reinvent itself as a leading supplier of information appliance software. Be has already announced that Compaq has licensed Stinger to create a similar device using the software. Stinger is slated to come out in the second quarter.

"Be is ahead of the competition in delivering a full Internet experience," said David Armitage, president of Qubit, in a statement. "Our new relationship with Be solidifies Qubit's 'no compromise' attitude towards the Internet experience and gives us the opportunity to provide wireless Internet solutions with the support of an industry leader."

Under these types of agreements, Qubit will manufacture customized versions of the WebTablet for distribution partners, such as content and Internet service providers, according to the company. The look and feel of the exterior can be changed depending on the partner.

The Qubit device is designed for wireless Internet access that will feature "always on" connections, according to a company spokesperson, in comparison to notebook or desktop computers, which typically offer standard dial-up access.

Qubit's WebTablet is designed to be recharged in the same way as a cordless Phone and will access Web sites using a touchscreen LCD, according to the company. The device, which will also be available in a Linux version, will be introduced in April of 2000.