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Commentary: A revolution in view

ViewSonic's Airpanel is overpriced and flawed, Forrester says, but the concept of "smart displays" solves some of the PC's most nagging shortcomings.

Commentary: A revolution in view
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
November 13, 2002, 1:30PM PT

By Jed Kolko, Senior Analyst

Windows CE for Smart Displays software will eventually redefine the home PC. Like any breakthrough device, the first implementation--ViewSonic's Airpanel--is overpriced and flawed, but the concept of "smart displays" solves some of the PC's most nagging shortcomings.

At long last! The PC is exciting again. The Airpanel, a wireless PC monitor running Windows CE for Smart Displays, is due in the first quarter of 2003. It shouldn't be confused with devices based on Microsoft's Tablet PC software, which are standalone laptops primarily for enterprise users. The Airpanel--and upcoming models from NEC, Fujitsu, Philips and TriGem--is a display screen that shows output from a PC elsewhere in the home and that can control the remote PC when a stylus is touched to the screen.

For now, the price--$999 for a 10-inch display, $1,299 for a 15-inch display--makes this more a concept piece than a consumer product. But once wholesale LCD (liquid crystal display) prices decline enough to bring the cost within consumers' reach, smart displays will change how consumers use PCs as radically as broadband has. (Broadband makes the Internet always-on; smart displays make the Internet always-here.)

Consumers will use displays to do the following:

• Bring the Internet into the kitchen. Consumers springing for the optional docking station for the 10-inch model, or using the stand built into the 15-inch model, will put it in the kitchen, where limited counter space and greasy surfaces make it a bad place to put a full PC. Though smart displays lack a keyboard, making it hard to compose e-mail, consumers will point-and-click to get online recipes, read e-mail or check news while waiting for water to boil. Because women are still most homes' primary cooks, the success of smart displays will depend crucially on how well marketers target women.

• Go online while watching TV. As interactive TV takes a backseat to on-demand services, smart displays will give TV watchers a better way to use instant messaging, check sports scores and order pizzas without leaving the couch. The entertainment industry shouldn't see smart displays as a threat, because consumers aren't

Related story

The company's Airpanel shows how "smart displays"
will expand the way PCs are used in the home.

going to sit in bed and surf the Web rather than watch "The Tonight Show." Instead, they'll do both simultaneously--buying advertised products online and visiting networks' Web sites while watching their shows.

• Listen to digital music and view digital photos anywhere in the home. Future-generation home networks will eventually let consumers play downloaded music on their stereos and show digital photos on their TV screens, but it's a long way off until entertainment devices work seamlessly with today's PC-based home etworks. Smart displays solve this problem today because the MP3 concert or photo slide show goes wherever the device does.

Unfortunately, the Airpanel isn't made for multimedia: The built-in speaker is inadequate even for close listening, and there's no volume knob, but ViewSonic and its competitors will quickly decide that these improvements will boost sales.

© 2002, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.